Guest speaker discusses handling pressure and normalizing mental health

Wes Woodson shared his important message with SHS on “Minding Your Mind”

Wes Woodson presents to students how to work through pressure and not be afraid to ask for help.

Trigger warning: this post contains content about depression and suicidal thoughts. The suicide hotline phone number is 988.  If you or someone you know is struggling with this, please don’t hesitate to contact this number.

Guest speaker Wes Woodson visited Sanford High School on Thursday, Jan. 5 to talk about the importance of normalizing mental health as well as how to manage the inevitable pressures in life. 

Woodson was brought in as a part of SHS’s School Counseling Department’s Speaker Series, in which students got to vote on some of the topics they’d like to learn more about.

Woodson is a graduate of Babson College and is also part of the MIND YOUR MIND organization. According to Woodson, the mission of this group is to, “eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health.” 

Woodson began speaking at schools when the world had shut down due to the pandemic in 2020. 

Since then, Woodson has traveled all around the country and has shared his message to a plethora of schools. When asked how many schools on average he visits each year, he responded, “Each year, it’s like over 200+.” In fact, he has had the opportunity to speak with 20,000 students regarding this pressing topic.  

Woodson shared with our school how he grew up in a predominantly white and Jewish community where he was the only Black student attending at the time. As expected, this caused some pressures in his life as well as some unhealthy feelings, of questioning his self-worth.

He was additionally diagnosed with test anxiety, which was frowned upon or stigmatized at the time, and he was made fun of by other classmates. As a child, Woodson would constantly be asking himself, “Am I enough?” 

With these internal feelings and self-deprecating thoughts, he felt that if he changed his outer appearance, or focused on being very good at a skill like basketball, that it would internally fix him as a person. However, this was unsuccessful and he ended up being diagnosed with a skin condition that significantly further plummeted his self-confidence and worth.

For some time, he was able to use basketball as a coping mechanism, however, he treated it more as a way to avoid what was really going on in his life and eventually his negative internal thoughts got the better of him, resulting in him quitting basketball. 

“You are enough and you are not alone.”

Wes Woodson

According to Woodson, things became progressively worse in College, where he was in an abusive, co-dependent relationship and was brought to the point where he felt that suicide was the only option. It wasn’t until he heard the song by Logic (Featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid) “1-800-273-8255”, which inspired him to call the number to get help.

Eventually, he was able to share his feelings and get the necessary help he needs and attended an outpatient group. In this group, he learned coping skills and was able to receive a true diagnosis as to what he had been experiencing all of these years: depression and anxiety. 

If you do ever find yourself in a similar situation, Wes wants you to remember that it’s important to get help. This in no way makes you weak, and in fact, it makes you a very strong person willing to seek help.

There are an abundance of coping skills that are helpful. A few examples that Woodson suggested include, breathing exercises, journaling, and listening to music.  

After his presentation, Woodson was interviewed, to receive more detailed information. 

“When I was a teenager I wish this program existed, I wish that I had someone that I could relate to with these feelings and not feel so alone, how I was feeling,” said Woodson on why he comes and speaks to students.

When asked what advice he has for the teen population who may be going through a similar experience, he confidently answered, “That you are enough and you are not alone.”

Finally, when asked if he has been able to see the impact in your presentations, he replied, “Outside of having students ask questions during the Q & A, I always have students either reach out via social media, send me letters, and come up to me like this. I get to see how they feel less alone, more empowered to talk about their own stories with their guidance counselor or even start the process of getting help and that’s amazing, that’s more than I could ever wish for.

Woodson did an excellent job addressing the importance of mental health as well as bringing awareness towards this topic. 

As Woodson shared, “We are not meant to suffer alone.” Seeking help is a true form of strength.

The suicide hotline phone number is 988.  If you or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate to contact this number. There are additional resources at the school that will support students that may be struggling.

Students pose with Wes Woodson (center) after the presentation. Source: Brett Williams

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