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Charter Arts students pledge: 'I've got your back'

Charter Arts students at a school club workshop
Sarah Mueller
Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts students Grace Stapp, Adele Ricci and Emily Saab.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Students at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts are planning to create social media content to help spread awareness of mental health struggles and offer support for those needing help.

The students are part of a club called Aevidum, which means "I've got your back." The nonprofit club's website said the word was created by students at a school in Lancaster County after losing a classmate to suicide.

  • Students at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts are planning videos and a social media campaign to raise mental health awareness
  • Young people locally are more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal ideation than in previous years
  • Students say more awareness is needed to reduce the stigma of mental illness

Georgia Bomgardner is the director of community education and engagement for the Shanthi Project, a nonprofit providing evidence-based mindfulness services to children and adults. A campaign like this to help youth with their mental health struggles is desperately needed, she said.

According to a 2021 Pennsylvania Youth Survey, more than a quarter of students in Lehigh County showed symptoms of depression. About 14% indicated they were suicidal and nearly 8% actually attempted suicide. There were similar trends in Northampton County.

Aevidum handout
Sarah Mueller
A handout from Aevidum.

Rates of truancy have increased and school attendance rates have decreased, the poll said, which could indicate some students feel disconnected from the school environment.

Ninth-grader Grace Stapp said she struggled to return to school after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person learning.

"I ended up having a really bad panic attack," she said. "When I got to Aevidum, we started working on this social media campaign and I just thought that even though I had overcome my struggles at the beginning of my time at the school, that other kids still need the help and I think this opportunity is a great chance to just get out here and really help others who need it."

The Aevidum website said since its 2009 inception, there are now clubs in more than 250 elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges.

"I think this opportunity is a great chance to just get out here and really help others who need it."
Student Grace Stapp

Emily Saab is a senior at the charter arts school. She has been a member of Aevidum since she was a freshman. She said she wants to create videos about reducing the stigma around mental illness that includes empathic storytelling that can be educational or entertaining.

"I would love to do something like that where we are telling people's stories or lives," she said. "Putting together a creative environment for people to talk about certain things."

The student-led video project and ensuing social media campaign were designed in direct response to the area’s first-ever Youth Mental Health Summit held in November 2022. It was organized by United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley with Resilient Lehigh Valley and Aevidum, and was sponsored by Lehigh County.

The students said they hope to create messages that will impact how other kids engage in the conversation around mental health and how their parents can support them.