Program aims to help Metro Detroit students with feelings of depression, stress

U Matter program visits Walled Lake Central High School

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. – A message was shared at a Metro Detroit high school to address depression, suicide and how to deal with feelings of inadequacy and stress.

The message was shared with students that it's OK to not be OK. The U Matter program teaches them that mental health is important.

U Matter gathers Metro Detroit teenagers and addresses the stigma of suicide and mental health that's not typically covered in school. It teaches students to love themselves for who they are, not who they think they should be.

It's not just a gathering of teenagers making posters. It's designed to be the beginning of something that transforms, and maybe even saves the lives, of others.

Teenagers from the Friendship Circle at West Bloomfield High School prepared for a U Matter week that will be brought to Walled Lake Central High School.

"So we're talking about a lot of different ideas," West Bloomfield senior Sophia Cannella said. "How we can reach everyone through all the difference activities."

U Matter is a week-long campaign that focuses on spreading the message that each individual matters through hall decorations, essay contests and real-life, honest talks from their own teachers.

"They get to speak on how they've been through tragedies in their life and really just get to motivate the students on mental health issues and being able to cope," Sophia said.

"I think the idea of bringing mental illness and suicide awareness into schools is something that should have happened a long time ago," Walled Lake Central senior Carson Biederman said.

"I think it's hard for us to have to be growing and learning and just trying to become something," Walled Lake Central senior Christopher Hamama said. "Then, at the same time, balancing out our emotions."

Six weeks later, Local 4 cameras were at Walled Lake Central for the U Matter presentation.

"This is something that sometimes can be uncomfortable," the speaker at the podium said.

Students said they hadn't been to that kind of assembly before.

"I felt very broken, but that stuff goes away," one speaker said.

Students listened to TED Talks and heard straight from teachers on how they battled issues in their lives.

"I'm really excited to see what people have to say about hearing their teachers open up and be honest, and be vulnerable, and share that they have gone through a lot of the same (things) we might be feeling right now," a student said.

The Walled Lake Central students learned how to get a conversation started when they have concerns in a judgment-free zone, and the hope is that they won't feel alone anymore.

"You can intervene early on with anxiety," said Lori Blumensteitn, executive director of the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety. "You can intervene early on with depression. But when things go left untouched, then we're getting into substance abuse. Then we're getting into things that didn't need to happen."

Most believed the visit was a success.

"I'm really happy with how everything has gone, and I think that the school is really starting to open up," one participant said.

You can learn more about U Matter and how to bring the program to your school by clicking here.

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.