Staff and students at Spectrum Community School are celebrating their first year being stigma-free.
The school was the first in Victoria to align with the Stigma Free Society of Victoria, switching their philosophy club to a stigma-free club to ensure students felt safe and welcome.
“Part of the reason we decided to do that is we really wanted to tackle questions about mental health and addiction and talk to kids about how to reduce stigma, and how to make Spectrum a more welcoming place,” said Nora Havelaar, French and English teacher and co-sponsor of the club.
In the first year of their campaign, the club focused on one theme per month, including religion, mental health, sexuality and PTSD to help educate students on what exactly stigma means.
For grade 12 student and stigma-free club member Kaitlyn Gordon, the club was something Spectrum needed.
“I’ve had people come up to me in the school and recognize me as a friendly face so I’ve helped a lot of people out,” Gordon said. “I know a lot of people feel very insecure with themselves because they feel depressed one day and don’t want to talk to their friends about it, and we really want to say it’s okay, it’s normal.”
This year the club has larger goals they want to accomplish, including establishing a mental health panel, sending students to a multi-school mental health summit at the end of October, and hosting a variety show at the end of the year so students can feel confident in showing off their talents.
But for the first month, it’s all about reminding students the club is there.
“It’s something big to look up to, so the students have been told this is who we are, this is what we stand for,” said Tom Gordon, English and Japanese teacher and club co-sponsor. “As part of our welcome back barbecue we’ve made a new banner and will hang it up in a visible place for everyone to see.”
The club will also try to reach out to Grade 9 and 10 students as possible club members when they might be feeling the most vulnerable.
Kaitlyn Gordon said the club would have been a helpful tool when she started high school.
“Being someone who is very quiet I found everybody above me very intimidating,” Gordon said. “I think if there’d been a group with a bunch of different ages, and you could go somewhere and just feel comfortable and just be yourself and working together. I think that’s really important and I really would have enjoyed that.”