NORTH KINGSTOWN – North Kingstown High School was awarded last Thursday with first prize in a special short video competition, which centered around spreading awareness of drug prevention and mental health awareness. The award–a $5,000 check for the school–was given by Preventum Initiative, a nonprofit organization that combines research and technology to address complex public health issues.
The video competition was called FEND–or, Full Energy, No Drugs–campaign, and was awarded for North Kingstown’s short video called “Breaking the Stigma,” which focused specifically on teen depression. The video was produced by three high school students, Benjamin Desorcy, Guillermo Hernandez and Jessie Girasole, along with the support of teacher Aaron Thomas.
The competition, which was open to all Rhode Island high schools, encouraged students to produce a 1 to 2 minute video aimed at their peers on either mental health and wellness issues or substance abuse. Along with the video, the competition also stipulated that schools would only be eligible for consideration if at least a third of all students downloaded the FEND smartphone application, which seeks to educate users on opioid abuse and prevention, as well as coexisting issues like mental health and wellness.
According to Jacquii Burgess, executive director of the Preventum Initiative, North Kingstown High School had nearly 400 students who downloaded the app, far and away the most of any school in the competition.
“Encouraging students to talk about mental health issues like depression can help reduce the stigma that keeps many young people from asking for help,” said Burgess said.“We’re thrilled to award NKHS the prize money, especially as they managed to get a third of their student body to participate in the FEND campaign.”
“There were quite a few entries, but part of the eligibility was, you had to get a third of the student body of the school [to download the app] in order to be eligible to win,” Burgess said on Thursday. “By far, North Kingstown High School had the most downloads of any school. It has almost 400 […] The fact that they had a third of the school body download the app, it starts conversations in the hall, in the classroom and back at home.”
Burgess added that, while the FEND campaign is based around drug awareness and prevention, it also ties into mental health and wellness, which often exists alongside drug abuse.
“That’s what was exciting about this video that these students here did,” she said. “It’s called ‘Breaking the Stigma’ and it’s about kids having the conversation and talking to each other and not being afraid of asking for help, or to start a conversation if you’re worried about someone.”
Teen depression, Burgess said, affects more than 50 percent of adolescents and teens in the United States, making the topic a particularly important one.
“It’s crippling because if you can’t get help for those sorts of things, then it interrupts your life. Whether it be that you never reach your full potential or it leads to other ways of looking for escape [through substances],” she said. “It can force a lifetime of depression. Suicide is on the rise in youth so we have to tackle it because these kids are dying or not living their full lives.”
The students involved in the production of the short video also agreed that issues like teen depression need to get more attention.
According to Desorcy, “Breaking the Stigma” was produced to spread awareness about using the FEND app to help with mental health issues.
“The FEND app isn’t specifically for depression, it helps a lot of issues like opioid addiction, depression, anxiety,” Desorcy said. “It was really a public service announcement that the FEND app is a useful way to solve problems like that in order to get help.”
“We wanted our video to raise awareness about the issues surrounding teen depression, and get across the message that it’s okay to ask for help,” he said.
Girasole added that the video gave viewers an idea of what teen depression “actually looks like.”
“It was really [great] to be able to show people what depression actually looks like, because people don’t always get the right view of it,” Girasole said.
And Hernandez said that winning the competition made the group of students “very proud.”
“Not a lot of the time do you get to win the competition,” Hernandez said. “You usually get to participate, maybe place. But to actually win it and get some money for the school, it’s really helpful and makes me really proud.”
After the presentation of the $5,000 check, Thomas said the video offered a great opportunity for the three students to “put their skills out there and show people what they could do.”
“They came up with the idea,” Thomas said. “I kind of guided them with what they were looking for, the focus. But after that, they took it from there and they ran with it so I’m very proud of them and what they accomplished.”
Principal Barbara Morse said that the award money will go towards both the communications program and the social-emotional program.
“Some of it will go to support the communications program but we also want to spend some of the money on the social-emotional program at the school,” Morse said. “The video was about depression, so we want to help support the programming we have in the school for that. It’s an important message they put out.”
“We’re so proud of our kids, they did a great job,” she continued. “We’re really proud of our students and their efforts.”
And superintendent Philip Auger said he was “blown away” by the students’ efforts.
“A lot of things came together. One, the kids are getting involved in an event like this, which is great. I’m really pleased there are so many people that engaged with this app and that program,” Auger said. “But also, Mr. Thomas and his video crew–it’s a really great video. It’s nice to see them using those skills for this kind of good stuff.”
As FEND rolls out in Rhode Island, the Preventum Initiative plans to run additional competitions to involve both middle school and high school students around these important issues. The FEND pilot was funded by a State Opioid Response Grant (SOR) from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The video competition prize was donated by a private donor.