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Mental health speaker meets with teens at St. Joe's

Jeff Yalden travels around the country addressing mental health issues with students.

TONAWANDA, N.Y. — The staff at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute brought in a special speaker on Wednesday to talk with students about the mental health issues they are facing.

One of Jeff Yalden's goals is to help the students know that "it is OK to not be OK."

"The choices you make today play a role tomorrow, the following day, next week, next month, next year," Yalden said.

Yalden is a motivational speaker who crosses the country talking with teens about mental health. On Wednesday, he spent the entire day with staff and students at Saint Joe's.

"It's encouraging in supporting them that it's OK to not be OK, but what are you going to do about it? And to teach them that if you don't speak it out, you're going to act it out, and you don't want to let it manifest because then it comes out at some point in their life that can be, can be really hard to overcome," Yalden said.

Added SJCI Principal Jim Spillman: "It's a conversation we don't want to avoid. We want them to really address it head on and let them know who the people are that can support them along the way."

Wednesday afternoon's small group session included student athletes and team captains.

"I see it on a day-to-day basis with our student athletes, and our coaches, and the struggles that they go through, and the pressures that they're under, and being able to have an open discussion, and a conversation in this type of atmosphere is such a big, big step forward," SJCI Director of Athletics Brian Anken said.

"And I really encourage others to consider doing something like this because just in the couple of hours since we started this process today, I've already ran into some kids in the hall who have talked about what an important day, and what a great message it was, for them personally."

Added  SJCI junior John Judge: "As teenage boys we are known to hide stuff, and our rates are very high of mental health, and it's very important that we need to cover this stuff and not hide it because it just over boils and becomes worse."

Added SJCI junior Austin Zimmerman: "A lot of kids in high school struggle with mental health, and this lunch meeting right now is just talking about what it means to be a leader. That's what a lot of captains and leaders of sports programs actually don't think about, and I took a lot out of it today."

The day wrapped up at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday with a presentation for parents.


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