Sun Prairie student trio presents seminar

Three Sun Prairie High School students are working to remind their peers everyone’s still human by hosting a seminar.

Specifically, Ryan Newquist, Connor Nikolay and Ashley Unmacht want them to know mental illness is a very real thing, and the negative stigmas of depression, anxiety and other illnesses are wrong.

“Mental illness is so prevalent right now, and it’s something we talk about a lot, but it’s not the right connotation,” Unmacht said.

Misusing term like depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) don’t represent the illness, plus it puts a negative spin on a life-altering problem, the group said.

The seminar will be 8-10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at the high school’s Performing Arts Center.

University of Wisconsin – Madison Psychologist Jason Horowitz will speak about the six most prevent mental illnesses he sees in high school-aged people, including anorexia nerviosa, bipolar disorder, depression, generalized anxiety, OCD and phobia, mainly focused on social interaction.

Representatives from Brairpatch Youth Services will outline resources available for students with mental illnesses.

Following the seminar, the team will hand out green bracelets, the official color of mental illness, post fliers and hopefully get the hashtag StillHuman trending on social media sites, they said.

“The focus may be on mental illness, but we want to show society should support itself,” Nikolay said. “We’re all still human, no matter what color we are, no mater what mental illness we have or if we have (a disability).”

This initiative started last spring then Unmacht and Nikolay were in a high school psychology class, and Nikolay started looking up statistics on mental health.

“Some of the statistics were crazy,” Nikolay said. “In a high school setting like this, it’s just kind of something that isn’t right. Then we delved deeper into it. I got the facts on Sun Prairie.”

The one that caught his attention was 59 percent of students say they’ve looked down on a peer for seeking professional help, he said.

“I think we should change that, (and) I think we have that opportunity here,” Nikolay said.

Sun Prairie High School Principal Lisa Heipp agreed, and said keeping the school’s strong sense of community was important.

“It’s good for our students to know everybody has these stories and, although you might not know someone’s exact story, you’re inclination should be ‘I’m going to support’, rather than criticize,” Heipp said.

After the idea was established with the trio, they realized it would be a great fit for the DECA public relations entry category, so its turned into their project for the year.

“We’re shaping the seminar to how we can make change,” Newquist said. “We’re not shaping it to the rubric of the DECA project. We’re making sure we can make change before we do anything DECA related.”

The group also plans to make a video about removing the mental health stigma to post on social media.