Union County students break silence about mental health awareness, help

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Piedmont High School senior Micah Fagala is determined to use her experience to help other students.

Fagala says she attempted to take her life during junior year in high school.  She survived.

Instead of hiding her experience, the senior is sharing her story with peers in a new support group she created at school, called “Break the Silence.”

[Charlotte after-school program for at-risk teens temporarily closes]

Every other week, students who attend the meet-up talk through similar struggles, like anxiety and depression.  There’s also a school counselor required to be on staff during their meetings.

"This is not something to hide,” Fagala said.

“Mental health is something that people don’t want to talk about.  It’s pretty much the elephant in the room.”

Union County Public Schools lead social worker Belle Walker said the need for mental health services among students continues to increase.

“We have students that are experiencing a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, a lot of trauma,” she said.

“For years, we’ve operated with very few school social workers.”

Now, Walker says counselors and mental health therapists are available in each building, nearly tripling staff from previous years.

The district is also training more than 200 student support staff in suicide intervention by the end of the school year.

Fagala says the initial interest meeting for “Break the Silence” drew almost 20 of her high school peers.

“I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that,” she said. “I can be that person that other people look at and say, 'I can get through this.' You’re not alone.”