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Fox Meadow High School’s CODA Club: Get ‘Loud’ About Mental Health Issues



April 04, 2019

Fox Meadow High School’s CODA Club is urging teens to spread the word – loudly – that talking about addiction and mental health disorders is the first step to overcoming them.

Unveiling a new hashtag - #LoveLoud – the Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness Club told students gathered recently at the school’s Yorktown campus that help is out there for mental health issues from a variety of avenues. Teens can help their classmates and friends struggling with issues like anxiety, ADHD and depression, along with drug and alcohol addiction, by creating a supportive atmosphere and helping society overcome stigmas surrounding mental health.
 
The CODA Club began at Fox Meadow three years ago after Stephanie Marquesano, who lost her 19-year-old son to a drug overdose in 2013, spoke to students about her son Harris and how young people with mental health issues often spiral downward quickly when they turn to alcohol or drugs. Marquesano started the Harris Project to publicize and address the relationship between mental health challenges and substance addiction.

Since then, Fox Meadow students have been among student leaders as CODA Clubs have started in other local high schools. Members of the club recently attended a countywide summit aimed at helping youth learn how to better support peers, link to resources, make sound decisions and change outcomes.

At last week’s event at Fox Meadow, Principal Nicole Ginexi reminded students about the importance of the club: “I can’t tell you how proud I am of Fox Meadow for helping to create this movement and make the changes that are needed.”

Teacher Patti Gallo, one of the club’s advisors, said the #LoveLoud effort that members will push this year was designed to do away with the shame that young people and their families feel over mental health issues.

“There is no shame associated with mental illness,” she said, “your mental health is every bit as important as your physical health.”   

Teacher Stacey Chiarella told students that there were different avenues for getting support and help, including teachers, guidance counselors, mental health professionals and friends. While young people may feel uncomfortable talking about difficult issues and even resort to joking about them, they are the ones who can change society by learning to be more open with each other and adults in their lives.

“You can talk about these things and not feel so alone,” she said. “There’s a lot of help here.” 

Marquesano told students that she was counting on them. “My story is tragic, but the hope for me lies in all of you who are here to make a difference,” she said. “You are the change.” 

Cutline:  Harris Project founder Stephanie Marquesano speaks to students about links between mental health issues and addiction.