Nixa high school has "Say Something" week to promote positive mental health

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NIXA, Mo. This week students arriving at Nixa High School are greeted by their peers waving signs of affirmation and encouragement.

It's part of the "Say Something" campaign promoting positive mental health.

Inside the school in the lunchroom area students can visit a table where different facts are shared about depression (such as the statistic that one-out-of-three students report being sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in the past year) and where they're encouraged to do acts of kindness to make other people's day a little nicer from simple high-fives to writing notes.

"We have these cards you can fill out to write down why someone deserves a high-five," explained Nixa senior Parker Heman. "It's just a simple act of kindness honestly. Like holding a door open for someone."

"Just do one nice thing for somebody else and you're going to feel so good about yourself," added Parker's mom Courtney Heman, a teacher who started the campaign three years ago. " I think if that spreads, it's gonna help with our bigger issues like depression that we can't control."

Trying to tie a simple bow around such a complex growing problem, though, is not easy. Just this past week two survivors from the Parkland, Florida shooting committed suicide as did the father of a six year-old girl who was killed at Sandy Hook.

Nixa has also had its share of tragedy including a school resource officer who took his own life last April and other examples that caused Courtney to start the "Say Something" campaign.

"My sixth grade child lost a friend of hers who died by suicide and I had a really good friend whose son also died by suicide," Courtney said. "It was kind of one of those signs where I felt I needed to do something."

Doing something about suicidal thoughts involves shining a light on a very dark subject that students admit is getting worse.

"I think it is but I don't think it's very known," said senior Katie Craig. "I don't think many people are open to talk about it."

"I think you can't really tell it on the surface," added fellow senior Sean Sample. "It's something that a lot of people are scared to talk about because they feel like they'll be judged if they say something about it. So that's what this week is all about. We're trying to get them to know that we support them and that it's alright and normal. Something can be done about it."

"Everybody is depressed at some point in their lives," Courtney Heman added. "You just need to get some support when that happens."

Experts say that social media contributes a great deal to teenagers anxiety and depression as does trying to meet high expectations.

"They have pressure to be perfect in every aspect of their life," Courtney said.

"A lot of it is kind of like competition," explained Craig. "It's like who can dress cuter, who's smarter, and there's just kind of cliques that go alone that make it harder to go through."

But the overall message of this week is for students to watch out for each other and if they do see any signs of extreme depression, say something.

"You know the kids see something on social media that gives them a weird feeling in their stomach, then they need to act immediately and tell a trusted adult," Courtney said.

For more information on the "Say Something" program, you can go to "sandyhookpromise.org".