Keeping in Touch(screen)

It’s third period, before the bell, and an awkward silence passes. We can all see each other, but no one says a word. It never used to be like this. Those friends I used to find joy in just smiling at in the morning, fully knowing we wouldn’t exchange words beyond asking for class notes, have seemingly gone off the radar.

Throughout high school, I’ve always tried to keep my circle small–two to three people I could vent to every now and then was all I ever needed. I still think that’s true, but over quarantine, I realized I might have seriously underestimated the difference these interactions, however small, with my classmates could make on a bad day.

So one (virtual) day in class, I made one risky move. I hit the unmute button–seemingly without cause. I just said “Hi.” An open greeting to all 26 of my peers.

My classmates were confused at first, but that dissipated quickly as the entire Google Meet chat erupted in laughter and side conversation. It was a beautiful symphony of, “How was your morning?” and “How are you, actually?”. Quite cathartic for an English class that has faced every barrier to connectivity since September.

I felt instantly better. I think we all did. I hadn’t understood the gravity of ‘physically distant, not socially distant’ until  this moment.

I continued checking in with my classmates at the beginning of each class that day and texted the simple voice message, “How have you been lately?” to others from my previous year’s classes. Some people responded, some didn’t. But that didn’t matter, because it felt good to reach out. I learned of their hard and good times, got critical context about what they were going through, and gave my support in any way I could.

I decided to join the JED team as a JED Student Ambassador (JSA) in order to be at the forefront of the conversation around student mental health that fosters creative ways to make people feel better. I cannot think of a more intuitive approach to that effort than to consult the very teens who are actively experiencing the reality we seek to change. As a JSA, I’ve learned effective coping strategies, learned how to create my own, and met students with a passion for mental health advocacy just like me. I’ve learned the importance of checking in with people–especially those I don’t instantly consider myself close with. Screens never changed that.

Being physically distant doesn’t mean we have to be socially distant. Check out seizetheawkward.org for some great tips on how to start a conversation with a friend or peer about mental health.

Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text HOME to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.