Changemakers: High school students help classmates cope with potentially dangerous stress, anxiety

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BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Two teenagers from Bellevue realized many of their classmates were struggling -- so they came up with a solution.

Seventeen-year-old Sachi Madan and 15-year-old Rosie Huang are two of the high-achieving students at Newport High School. They also admit they're stressed out because of it, and at times, struggling with pressure to perform.

Severe anxiety is a real thing for students. During the first month of this school year, Bellevue schools saw a significant spike in students considering suicide.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the suicide rate for girls ages 15 to 19 doubled from 2007 to 2015, reaching its highest point in 40 years. The suicide rate for boys in that age group increased by 30% over the same time period.

Madan, a junior at Newport, says, “There’s just a lot going on when you’re in high school. Not only do you have to think about your academic rigor, but you have to think about your personal life, your family life.”

According to Huang, a sophomore, there are other pressures, as well.

“I had a lot of self-esteem issues," Huang says. "I had body image issues. I would feel constantly stressed, and that’s when I decided that something needs to happen.”

A public relations project

The two students took action. They addressed stress after receiving a public relations assignment from marketing teacher and DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) adviser Jerry Borth.

“Honestly, I was hesitant at first,” recalls Borth after learning that Madan and Huang  wanted to create a campaign to help other students manage their stress. Borth was concerned about the sensitivity of the topic, fearing if the message was misplaced, it could make other students uncomfortable and compound the problem.

Madan and Huang convinced him otherwise. They researched, pulling from recent studies and an article in The New York Times Magazine, creating their own curriculum on mental health. Then, they presented it to the class. They split the students into two groups, asking the students to walk across the classroom if they ever had feelings like:

  • "I often feel overwhelmed by school."
  • “I feel like I’m not good enough.”
  • “I know someone who has, or I myself have committed self-harm or tried to commit suicide.”
  • “I know of someone who has committed suicide.”

Often, most of the students in the classroom answered yes.

Newport High School students walk across the classroom indicating they have experienced or know someone who's suffered from anxiety.

“The point of that game is to see you’re not alone in everything we experience," Madan says. "There are other people going through the exact same thing as you’re going through.”

Huang chimes in on what may be causing some of that anxiety.

“I think a lot of self-esteem issues for children come from their parents. A lot of pressure that they put on themselves is because of parental expectations.”

So during the program, they discuss stress, how to manage it, and how to get help if students or someone they know may be in crisis. Resources are provided along with hotlines students can call.  The session ends with Madan and Huang asking others to write down their questions or concerns, just in case immediate action is needed.

“Normally this isn’t a subject that people want to come out and talk about," says Newport junior Celina Romero. "But with this, people felt like it was a safe environment.”

How did other students respond to the student-led course on stress management?

“We did post campaign surveys with our students," Madan says. "84.4% of our students responded positively. They said this campaign was good. It was beneficial to them.”

Spreading stress management school-wide

Madan and Huang believed the mental health message should be heard by every student at Newport High. So they trained 30 other students to teach the course. Then, they reached out to the head of the English Department at the school and convinced administrators to allow them to dedicate one English period to spread the message school-wide.

Newport High School junior Sachi Madan (left) and sophomore Rosie Huang (right) teach stress management skills to other students.

Junior Trey Wikstrom is one of the students who helped teach the program.

“Just seeing how much they (other students) related to the presentation and how big of a problem it actually was," Wikstrom says, "it was just mind-blowing.”

Heather Erickson is a school counselor at Newport. She says Madan and Huang broke through to students in ways teachers cannot.

“When it’s taught from a student perspective to one of their peers, it’s received differently than a piece of curriculum that they’re going to be tested on,” Erickson says.

As for the teacher who had reservations-- he's thrilled he ultimately gave the two students the green light.

“This is easily the most successful, most well-executed project I’ve seen in my 20 years of teaching,” Borth says.

Madan and Huang says they also learned a lot about themselves through this process.

“It feels better than getting an 'A' in any class,” Madan says.

The two students are not finished helping others manage their stress. They’re now working with the Bellevue School District to take their student-led program district-wide.

So, we honor Sachi Madan and Rosie Huang as true Changemakers in our community!

If you would like to nominate a changemaker in your city or town click here: Nominate a Changemaker.


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