CHS students attend national campaign on mental health


Danielle Kiefer

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks about mental health at the Newseum March 5.

By Danielle Kiefer and Hannah Yasharoff

Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that helps provide veterans and their families with volunteer mental health professionals, launched their Campaign to Change Direction at the Newseum March 5 to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Several CHS students attended the event through UMTTR, one of the founding members of the campaign.

The campaign, inspired by the White House National Conference on Mental Health in 2013, aims to educate on the five signs of emotional suffering to help people recognize when others may be in emotional pain, with a goal to educate over 30 million Americans within the next five years. First Lady Michelle Obama was the keynote speaker, with additional speakers including Academy Award-winning producer of Silver Linings Playbook Bruce Cohen and other various mental health professionals.

“People all over have been afraid to talk about mental health,” said UMTTR co-founder Sue Rosenstock, who started the organization two years ago after losing her son, Evan, to suicide. “I think what [this event] will do is make people realize how there can be an impact on a disease or the culture changing in a way that we can accept mental illness and mental health as a part of our overall health and well-being.”

According to the Change Direction Launch Press Release, over 50 campaign partners, including UMTTR, have already pledged their support to spread information about the five signs: withdrawal, agitation, hopelessness, decline in personal care and change in personality.

“UMTTR, as a founding member, is on the ground floor of this, and I’m unbelievably elated that this is happening in my lifetime,” Rosenstock said.

According to Rosenstock, UMTTR pledged to inform 70,000 MCPS students of the five signs within the next five years.

The Campaign to Change Direction encourages Americans to “change the story” about mental health by understanding that mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being.


“At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country,” Obama said in her speech. “Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.”


According to the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about one in five adults in the U.S. experience a mental illness in a given year.


Students hope to bring this back to CHS by helping to change the way people view mental illness.


“Because CHS has such a competitive atmosphere, nobody wants to admit that they’re struggling, and everybody wants to keep up with the unrealistic pace,” UMTTR Co-Chair and senior Elliot Thacker said.


With help from UMTTR, awareness about the importance of mental health is becoming more of a reality.


“I think UMTTR being a big part of every CHS kid’s life has brought to attention how important [mental health] actually is,” senior Sonam Mehndiratta said. “If UMTTR hadn’t started, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have even heard of this [event], let alone been here.”


There are currently plans in place to start a UMTTR club at CHS, with hopes to begin by the end of the year. In addition, UMTTR is working with NAMI Montgomery County to start implementing a program called Sources of Strength, which aims to connect students with peer leaders and trusted adults to prevent suicide in MCPS high schools.


According to Rosenstock, the program has already been implemented at CHS, Wootton, BCC and Springbrook, and is in the process of being added to other schools.


Overall, the launch seemed to be a success and inspired the attendees and students to start making a difference.


“I think at the end of the day, it’s all about accepting one another,” senior Kathryn Kunkle said.