OAK HILL, W.Va. — Students at Oak Hill High School in Fayette County are working to bring mental health to the forefront.

Lily Zukowski

A mental health outreach workshop was held Wednesday to provide other student support teams from across West Virginia with tools to implement student-led mental health committees.

The workshop was led by the Oak Heal Outreach Team where senior Lily Zukowski serves as president. She said it’s important to have a space where students can talk with their peers about the issues they face in school.

“Around teenagers specifically there’s always been a negative stigma, so I’m learning to spread positive awareness to kind of eliminate that,” Zukowski told MetroNews.

The team was formed more than two years ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zukowski said she started high school on lockdown.

“My freshman year I was completely virtual, so I was isolated. I didn’t get to hang out with my friends, talk to people or anything like that. Online classes were via Zoom,” she said. “I’ve always been a social person so that isolation was really hard on me.”

Elementary schools, middle school and high schools from across the state from 17 counties were in Oak Hill for Wednesday’s event.

Oak Hill High School Project Aware Therapist Tiffanny Gray was there to speak with school leaders about ways to implement student-led events surrounding mental health.

“We just want to basically teach them the same concept of student-led mental health groups, how you can run events, plan out things and really make that lasting impact for mental health within your school building,” she said.

Gray said sometimes it’s easier for students to open up to their peers rather than a counselor or parent.

“Kids sometimes don’t open up as much to adults. They’re worried about how an adult may perceive them. Sometimes they’re more vulnerable with students who are their friends, so if we have someone who has already built that relationship who can teach them those coping skills that they may need or even just be someone who can listen to them, it just makes a better impact,” she said.

Gray said it’s also about creating community and learning to create a safe space where students can feel heard.

Breakout sessions focused on developing new teams, utilizing school-wide data, increasing community partnerships and parent engagement, and marketing to student audiences to increase involvement.

Wednesday’s event was held at the New River Health Convention Center in Fayette County.