Lean on Me - Normalizing Difficult Conversations

  • High School
Lean on Me - Normalizing Difficult Conversations

Through a collaborative effort between counselors and the advisory teachers, students in high school are learning how to normalize speaking out about difficult emotions. And, that at times, we all need somebody to lean on. 

Expanding on last year’s theme of learning how to seek help, the counselors and advisory teachers are working together in a series of initiatives to teach students what they can do when a friend is in distress.

The focus of the recent “Lean on Me” presentation (see below), led by high school counselors Ms. Julia Bui and Ms. Deviyani Pathak, was to give students the tools and resources they need to understand how and when they can be a source of support for one another.

Normalizing Difficult Conversations

As part of the campaign to normalize letting others know when you are struggling, the counselors emphasize that suicidal ideation is a sign of distress.

“It’s a common misperception that speaking about suicide encourages suicide attempts,” says Ms. Bui. “But in fact, communication is key. Finding the courage to say the word allows an opportunity to initiate a dialogue. Through dialogue, we can help students identify the underlying issues and provide them with the support they need.”

From a peer, students learn that listening, validating, and reassuring are three ways that they can support a friend having suicidal thoughts. And from the counselors, students learn how to recognize signals. 

“These are very difficult topics,” says High School Principal, Jennifer Mendes. “But we want our students to understand that there is no shame in mental health issues. By communicating about these topics openly and honestly, we can normalize these discussions among our students, and in our community.”

We All Need Somebody to Lean On 

In his 1972 hit song, “Lean on Me,” Bill Withers sings “For no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show. You just call on me brother when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on.”

Reflecting on the simple yet meaningful lyrics of "Lean on Me" during their advisory class following the presentation, students continue discussing the importance of being able to share their feelings. 

During the class, students’ own creative renditions of the Withers’ song, such as the one below by students in teacher Nathan Larson's advisory, provide a great springboard to discuss why someone might hesitate to ask for help. “The problem is too embarrassing,” “I might get upset if I say it out loud,” “They won’t understand what I am going through,” and “No one cares,” are some of the ideas as to what could potentially create barriers. 

Yes, It Takes Bravery and Courage

And as role models, adults can acknowledge that it takes bravery and courage to speak up, and sometimes to even just reach out to friends to find out how they are doing. Because, ultimately, in fostering a safe environment where students can access mental health without the fear of judgment, embarrassment, or anger we can begin to break down the barriers that may keep them from getting the support they need. 

Because, at times, we all need somebody to lean on. 


High School Counselor Julia Bui contributed to this article.

Author: Tanya Olander
Communications Officer


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