By: Josefina Alvarez, Board President and Rachel Hageli, Volunteer
Recognizing the important role it plays in mental health, the MHA-NS Youth Advisory Board selected self-love as the theme for the 2019 Essay and Multimedia Contest. Over 220 local students in 6th through 12th grade participated, sharing their thoughts, struggles and wins with self-love through writing and artwork.
The annual contest, now in its 16th year, promotes mental health awareness in schools and provides an opportunity for community members to hear local youth talk about their mental health concerns and how they manage them. This year’s contest saw the highest contribution from students in 6th-8th grade.
The Award Ceremony for the 2019 contest was held on Sunday, November 17, at the Glenview Public Library. Dr. Michael Losoff, Director of Adolescent Services at Yellowbrick Consultation and Treatment Center, the contest sponsor, reflected on the power of shared stories in his opening remarks, “When we share our stories, teller and listener begin to share the same experience–a powerful way to connect.”
Twenty 6th to 12th graders representing six area schools received awards for essays and artwork on self-love. A 10th grader candidly shared that when he was asked to write on self-love by his teacher, he thought the assignment was “a waste of time”. He continued, “While writing, however, I started to care about what I was writing, not because of the chance to win $300, but because I began to see my progression as a person, come out onto the pages.”
Essays and art work addressed several dimensions of self-love. A few examples of what students shared include:
- An 8th grader that defined self-love as “loving the way you truly are and looking at yourself as a beautiful, healthy person.”
- Another 8th grader suggested that we can achieve self-love by “surrounding ourselves with friends and family who care for us.”
- A 10th grader shared that “striving to be my best and happiest self is something that can only be done with harmony between all the various aspects of life; a shaky chair needs to be stabilized before it can be colorfully painted. Self-love doesn’t need to be grand flourishes, morning runs, or Netflix binges; sometimes the most significant step is getting a few loose screws in place.”
- Another high school student advised peers to “love yourself for who you are and everybody will follow suit. Express your best self and don’t be afraid to experiment with new things.”
- Reflecting on years of struggle to find self-love, a 12th grader wrote: “It took years of battles, ups and downs and close calls to get to where I am today. I know that my battle isn’t over but I understand that I am capable of getting through anything, because I have survived 100 percent of my bad days.”
Young adult author and occupational therapist, Kathi Baron closed the awards presentation, stating, “Doing what you love will pull you into being your best self.”
During the discussion that followed the awards presentation, a member of the audience asked how parents can support their children’s mental health. A member of our Youth Advisory Board responded, “Listen but don’t try to solve our problems for us, help us to solve them ourselves”. The follow-up discussion also included a conversation on how comparing yourself to others can get in the way of self-love. In response to an audience question about the role of social media, winners agreed that social media can support or get in the way of self-love and mental health, depending on how it is used.