Local high school students discuss troubling times in essay, poster contest ceremony


Edward Cox/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Township High School student Imani Davis took first place in the 11th-12th grade category of an essay contest organized by Mental Health America of the North Shore.

Edward Cox, Assistant City Editor

In front of about 50 people at the Evanston Ecology Center, Evanston Township High School junior Ashley Smith talked about her struggle to make sense of the death of friends from violence and accidents.

“It’s difficult to come to school and difficult to know you might not see that person again,” Smith read from an essay.

Smith was one of the winners of an essay and poster contest organized by the Mental Health America of the North Shore this year. The 15 contest winners, mostly ETHS students, shared their stories Sunday afternoon. Their tales centered on the theme “How I deal with difficult times.”

“That’s another way we are really trying to reach young people because we know life is really stressful for young people,” said MHANS president Dr. Kristin Kenefick, a psychologist.

In their presentations, students talked about how they turned to to hobbies such as listening to music, writing and dancing to cope with stressful situations ranging from parents’ divorces to family illness.

Many admitted that they had entered the contest for class extra credit points but said the project had made them more aware of mental health issues.

Niles West High School freshman Amina Dzananovic, who wrote her essay about coping with an illness in her family, said she hopes to contribute to progress in mental health studies. She said she was surprised to learn she had taken first place in the 9th-10th grade category.

“I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to call my mom,’” Dzananovic said before the ceremony began. “I think it was a great opportunity to let my story out.”

High school students submitted about 200 entries to the competition this year, more than triple the number received last year, board members said. MHANS board of directors, which includes several psychologists, decided to introduce a poster contest this year, Kenefick said.

MHANS awarded students $1,100 in total for the competition. The Forrest E. Powell Foundation contributed $1,000 to the contest, the third year it has supported MHANS, said Hecky Powell, a contest judge and the founder of the foundation.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th), who attended the ceremony, said talking about mental health issues will benefit Evanston youth.

“Mental health is something people used to shy away from.” Holmes said. “Now people can say it is a problem in the community.”