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'You are valued': Washington students take to the Legislature to boost peers' mental health

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill written by the Legislative Youth Advisory Council into law earlier in May.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Whether it’s supportive messages in a school hallway or new laws signed by the governor, students in Washington state are helping their peers deal with the mental strains of the pandemic.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Month students at North Thurston High School are putting up signs covered with sticky notes containing supportive messages like “You are valued” and “You are a genius.”

“I think we all need this in school,” said Emilee Sebesta, a senior at North Thurston High School.

Students on the Legislative Youth Advisory Council (YLAC) wrote a bill and presented it to lawmakers requiring school districts to place mental health resource information on the main webpage of every school in the state.

It overwhelmingly passed out of the legislature, and Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Washington, signed the bill into law earlier this month.

“Especially in the pandemic when we’re all alone, like, this is the most human interaction we get,” said Kamiak High School student Connor Park over a Zoom call, “We should have started talking about it a long time ago.”

The idea for raising awareness through school websites came after LYAC conducted a survey of students across the state.

Their number one concern: getting mental health assistance, according to LYAC Chair, Kellen Hoard, from Inglemoor High School.

Hoard testified in favor of the bill during a legislative hearing.

"I 100% think it will not only save lives but also even, not going to the extreme, it'll just make people healthier and safer,” said Hoard

LYAC member Baeza Lakew said she has struggled with mental health in the past.

She said the relatively simple measure of adding a link to a school’s website will help reach students who may not be willing to ask a teacher or counselor for help.

“Teachers cannot do everything,” said Lakew, “I've been from therapist to therapist, and it just feels like there's a disconnect between schools and the mental health professionals themselves.”