NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Maura O’Keefe, 2019 New Providence High School Graduate, made an emotional plea to the Board of Education (BOE) to take mental health and addiction concerns seriously. She spoke via zoom during the public comment session at the Thursday, Aug. 27 BOE meeting.
She recommended that the district enhance its role in dealing with mental health issues and addictions. She explained that through her communications with the high school she was shown a document listing the actions the district has taken recently to better handle mental health issues. She noted that the list demonstrates the district’s willingness to improve the handling of these issues. However, she noticed that the document provides resources for parents and staff, but it “lacks focus on students.”
She noted that the community members that are involved with mental health and addiction awareness campaigns do not necessarily have the experience of a high school student who has reached out to the faculty.
She recalled that when she was a student at the high school a friend of hers was struggling with an addiction and mental health issues, including an eating disorder and depression. She noted that at the time she was 17 and “not eager” to tell faculty members about someone’s mental health issues. However, she and her friends had no other option except to turn to the school counselor “out of desperation.” She said that the staff’s reaction to their concerns was “inadequate.” Students who turn to the school staff for help for their own struggles or in order to help out a friend should be met with maximum concern. Those seeking help for themselves or for a friend should feel supported and relieved, trusting that the faculty will do all they can to intervene and help, she pointed out. However, when she brought her concern regarding a friend’s situation to the attention of the faculty, she said she felt the staff was less concerned than she was. She ended up walking away more stressed out than relieved.
She called for a bigger role of the schools to prevent tragedies from happening.
With regard to other news the board meeting started with a somber note as the board held a moment of silence in honor of rising senior Julia Prasad who passed away due to an accident.