By Ally Morrison
After seeing a need for mental health education in her school, Altamont School junior Savitri Sasse decided to dedicate her Miree project to the cause.
Students in the Upper School at Altamont participate in a project under the C. Kyser Miree Center for Ethical Leadership. The projects are based on individual interests of the student that serve a need in the greater Birmingham community.
Sasse, who lives in Vestavia Hills, chose to organize a Teen Mental Health Fair at the Altamont School in partnership with GirlSpring. She invited local vendors and keynote speakers to participate in the fair.
Sasse explained why she chose to focus on teen mental health and why she chose to do this through a resource fair.
“More recently, I’ve been exposed to people struggling with their mental health,” Sasse said. “My brother did a mental health survey at Altamont, and the results showed that people were having more mental health issues, especially during the pandemic. His survey was the foundation for my project, and I wanted to build on it.”
Sasse said she originally planned to create a blog for her Miree Project, but her counselor suggested she organize a fair, and she thought that was a good idea.
“I thought the fair was a good idea because my friends were having a hard time accessing resources they needed,” Sasse said. “I thought a resource fair with local organizations would be helpful.”
Focusing on Youth
Sasse said she asked Tashee Brown, a UAB grad student who has worked with teenagers over the years, to be the keynote speaker because of her experience.
“I picked Tashee because she has worked with teen mental health before and was also willing to talk about how COVID affected teen mental health,” Sasse said. “I thought she would be a good fit.”
Brown received her bachelor’s in psychology and health education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she is now working on a master’s in medical/clinical social work. She is a youth services coordinator with the Crisis Center in Birmingham and has worked with Altamont over the past few years, giving presentations to students.
“My interest has always been working in mental health but more specifically focusing on youth mental health,” Brown said. “I experienced personal traumas growing up, so I know what it’s like to be in a crisis state and need support and access to resources that might be outside of someone’s community.”
During her undergraduate studies, Brown volunteered with the Crisis Center’s Teen Link Line, which is now known as the UTalk Youth Line. After moving through various roles, Brown ended up in her current position.
“As a youth services coordinator, I do a lot of prevention education and community outreach for kids, teens, youths and adolescents,” Brown said. “I give presentations that correlate to adults working with youth or youth in crisis. I interview volunteers for the UTalk line and help them through training sessions.”
The Crisis Center services five counties in the greater Birmingham area.
Brown said the Teen Mental Health Fair is particularly important given changes during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has had a pretty huge effect on all of us as adults but also our kids and teens,” Brown said. “They had their school and education taken away. Not only is it important to maintain education, hobbies and extracurricular activities, but for a lot of teens that were stuck at home, their sense of safety was taken away, also.”
“Everyone’s home life isn’t the perfect cookie-cutter life,” she continued. “Some people were trapped in family situations and that took a huge hit to their mental health. We know that vulnerable populations such as minority youth and BIPOC youth were also drastically impacted by this as well. It’s important to talk a lot about what this pandemic has done and is doing to us and how it’s changed the way we view the world and how we see each other.”
During her presentation at the fair, Brown spoke about the effects COVID had on the population as a whole, but she focused primarily on the effects on the younger population. She educated students, faculty and parents on warning signs to look for that could indicate someone they know is experiencing a crisis. She provided insight into how to help and support peers and how adults can address and provide resources to youths.
Sasse said her main hope for the fair was that it would help end the stigma surrounding mental health.
“I hope people know that it’s OK to have mental health issues, but that it’s important to get help,” Sasse said. “I feel like the fair was a way to find resources and places to go if someone needs it.”