Raising awareness of mental health is top priority


Photo by Isabella Sandoval

School Nurse Kathy Gross

Nylah Saldaña and Isabella Sandoval

Most students have a lot of responsibilities and pressures: academic, extracurricular, home, work and friends. Some students have an added burden of mental health issues like stress, depression and anxiety. So, how do students find the help they need when everything seems too much to bear? 

Photo by Isabella Sandoval
Nazareth’s Student Assistance Program Director Cathy Kokontis

One place at Nazareth in which students can find such help is in the office of Cathy Kokontis, Nazareth’s Student Assistance Program Director, which is located in room N301. As one of her focuses, she works alongside administration and guidance to help spread awareness of students’ mental health. 

Kokontis admits that she has worked with students who have had serious mental health issues. She shared that she is very passionate about spreading awareness of mental health issues that teens face. “I think we should do everything we can so that students know there are people out here to help them,” said Kokontis. 

In addition to members of the guidance department, Kokontis is available to students if they need someone to talk to, and she keeps a basket full of resources that students can access if they would like to read up on the many issues that teens face today. Moreover, to support students in need of stress relief, Kokontis has set up a “zen room” just outside of her office, which is a place for students to visit and decompress during activity periods. 

Not only does Kokontis work with students on this important topic, she also facilitates trainings for Nazareth’s faculty and staff. For example, she was involved with training teachers so they know how to speak about and handle situations when they are worried about their students’ well being. There is also a training program specifically for second year teachers where they talk about common issues that many teens face, such as panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. 

Not everyone views mental health the same way. In fact, certain communities stigmatize mental health issues and that can lead to some students hiding their feelings or avoiding issues that should be addressed. 

Within Naz’s affinity groups, led by Kokontis and other faculty members, students are given a safe space to discuss a variety of issues their communities face, including mental health. In these groups, students can share with others and often feel relief that they are not alone. 

Photo by Isabella Sandoval
School Nurse Kathy Gross

Like Kokontis, there are other faculty and staff members available to help students in need. For example, Kathy Gross is Nazareth’s full time nurse, and she is always willing to help students in any way she can.

One common trigger for mental health issues in teens is change says Gross. “Change is the biggest factor that contributes to students being stressed and overwhelmed.” In some instances, change can mean the death of a family member, transferring to a new school, or issues at home such as divorce.

According to Gross, the nurse’s office and the guidance department work in conjunction to ensure that the health of students – mental and physical – are the top priority. “If I notice that a student’s mental health is struggling, I usually will send them to their guidance counselor to see if they can make any accommodations for them,” Gross says.

With the chaotic lives that most high school students live, it can be hard to self-assess mental health, and one may not know the red flags to keep an eye out for. According to Gross, the common red flags of anxiety are headaches, loss of appetite, loss of pleasure in activities, and being aloof from friends and family. 

Gross’ goal, along with Kokontis, is to de-stigmatize mental health in the school environment. Some people still feel that mental health is a scary topic that people are afraid to talk about due to the complexity of it all, but in reality, that’s not what it’s all about. 

While mental health is becoming part of common conversation, students and adults should be reminded that mental health is just as important as physical health and that talking about mental health issues will only continue to improve the health of students.