In recognition of World Mental Health Day, St. Christopher’s Journeys to Manhood fall program focused on boys and well-being. The two-day program featured presentations, small group discussions, laughter yoga and mindfulness exercises.
Jordan Burnham and Matt Bellace spoke to a community gathering, free and open to the public, the evening of Oct. 10 and again the next day to Middle and Upper School boys. Both men used relatable personal experiences as inspiration for coping with anxiety and depression.
Dr. Bellace, a youth motivational speaker and stand-up comedian, stressed the importance of social support, urging students to surround themselves with friends, teachers and others who encourage them to be the best person they can and who support safe risk taking. “The No. 1 predictor of your behavior are the friends you hang with or surround yourself with,” said the author of the book, “A Better High,” which is used in Upper School health classes.
Dr. Bellace encouraged students to turn to meditation, music, exercise, nature and helping others as alternatives to drinking and drugs.
Meanwhile, Jordan Burnham detailed his teenage struggles with depression that ultimately resulted in a suicide attempt at age 18 when he jumped from the ninth floor of his bedroom window and miraculously survived. He went on to make a career of telling his story to give others hope. An ESPN documentary of his story was nominated for an Emmy. Questions from Upper School boys that followed his talk were heartfelt. How do we break the stigma? How do we tell our parents? Did you struggle talking about it when we as men are supposed to be strong?
Mr. Burnham says the only way to break to stigma is by sharing stories. He said sometimes writing a letter can open doors to an easier conversation. And finally, he passed along advice from his father: “ The manliest thing you can do is ask someone for help.”
Boys in grades K - 12, along with faculty and staff, gathered on Knowles Field for an innovative well-being program. Slash Coleman of Laughter Yoga Richmond led the School through several laughter yoga exercises. The boys then paired off in groups and talked about a wish they have for themselves, the School or community. They wrote those wishes on fabric leaves. The leaves will be used to create a “Wish Tree” that will be displayed in the new Arts Center when it opens next year.
Lower School boys also made breath beads and participated in mindful breathing workshops with the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation, a Richmond nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of teenage mental health.
The program was organized through the Center for the Study of Boys. The Center’s mission is to promote best practices in engaging and teaching boys through research, professional development and programming.