Guest blog: Teacher’s experiences help students navigate mental health

MHA Admin

Wed, 09/27/2023 – 08:10

by Michael Cullinane

As a 46-year-old veteran high school teacher, I often worry my students will soon write me off with an “Okay, Boomer” response. Although a member of Generation X, technically I’m closer in age to my Baby Boomer predecessors than the Zoomers in my classroom, but they just see me as the older guy behind the desk.

My students are navigating a world that looks a lot different from the one I grew up in. But even as technology, trends, and even the challenges we face evolve, the fundamental need for support and understanding remains constant. Despite what some of my students may think at times, I’ve learned a few things over the years that might be useful to them. Of course, remembering what it’s like to be a teenager isn’t the same as being a teenager, and I make sure that the advice I offer my students comes from a place of humility. You won’t hear Mr. Cullinane stand in front of the classroom proselytizing about the good ol’ days or about how he walked to school uphill both ways and still always arrived on time. I’m much more likely to bring up my failings.

The pressures and challenges my students and kids face are very real and significant. I’m grateful that this fall I can utilize the many resources in Mental Health America’s new toolkit – Selfies, Social, & Screens: Navigating Virtual Spaces for Youth – created in partnership with Walgreens. Young people need well-trained mentors, the right resources to identify warning signs, and sometimes a helping hand. This toolkit offers tips and guidance for me as a teacher and youth and their caregivers.

Sometimes, the advice young people receive about self-care online can be questionable or at times even self-defeating. Take “bed-rotting” for example – where young people are told that the best way to overcome their mental health challenges is to sit in bed for self-care, where they may end up scrolling social media and consuming negative news and information about how grim humanity is today.

Full disclosure: When I was a teen, I suffered from depression, anxiety, and a general feeling of discomfort. In a time when things seemed much simpler, my generation shared the same core concerns as those of my students today: feeling disconnected, hopeless, and more than a little lost. I rarely had a good day at school and often departed with feelings of hopelessness, like I didn’t belong, and that no one liked me. As a result, I frequently faked being sick, rotting in my bed (before “bed-rotting” was a thing), watching bad sitcoms, and trying desperately to quiet my mind.

And, you know what? It worked.

Well, it worked until it didn’t. Once 4 p.m. rolled around and my day of rot turned into the promise of a new day, where I not only would face the same challenges but also piled up homework from missing school, I panicked. Anxiety, frustration, and self-loathing multiplied.

This pattern continued for me through college. No one gave me advice on how to overcome it because everyone assumed I was a lazy slug. In general, people weren’t as willing to talk openly about mental health challenges back then.

During my senior year of college, I began tutoring a young man in reading. We met each week to read The Outsiders together, and with my help, he grew as a reader. But the real change happened in me. A brand-new feeling washed over me: pride. By helping someone else, I helped myself. This experience is also how I learned to feel empowered – that we can take control of our lives and become strong and confident. Empowered people are better equipped to handle the stressors of everyday life. They can make a change in themselves and others.

That’s why I appreciate Walgreens-Mental Health America partnership in creating much-needed resources for youth and the adults in their lives. In addition, I encourage my students to enter Walgreens’ Expressions Challenge every year, which allows students to create and share potentially helpful content with each other.

I particularly like the “Social Media Do’s” list and have shared it with my students. This is a core component of media literacy, and it should be incorporated into nearly every class. The comprehensive list keeps things simple and straightforward for students, while also addressing the nuance of being a teen in our modern world.

The visual print outs and fact sheets around my classroom will serve as a reminder that we need to address mental health every day, not just in the times when it comes up in a discussion. By keeping this topic in visual proximity, we are always reminded to take care of ourselves and each other.

I’m also going to share this information with parents. I want to be an advocate for my students, even in their challenges outside of my classroom, and a big part of that is being a resource for the parents.

I know, from working daily with Gen Z, that they can do great things. But in all honesty, it’s not easy for me or for them. My hope is that they will see the future is bright, feel the thrill of doing good, and realize that we all play a part in making a real difference.

Michael Cullinane is a journalism teacher at Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago, Illinois.


The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will house a “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center, that will provide case management, mental health community advocacy, and oversight from the M.I. Mother’s Keeper mental health advocates. 
The Capital City Emergency “Level II” Trauma & Wellness Center will offer patrons access to immediate coverage by general surgeons as well as coverage by the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.
Our goal is to help people in the best way possible in an effort to preserve and to save more lives in the Nation’s Capital and beyond.

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Child Sex Assault Victim
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Drug Overdose
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Trafficking Victim
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and more…

Mental Health

At Capital City Emergency Trauma & Wellness Center patrons with mental health emergencies that include life threatening situations in which an individual is imminently threatening harm to self or others, severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, has a severe inability to function or is otherwise distraught and out of control, will have access to quality and psychiatric emergency services and referrals.

Physical Health

Whether your life threatening medical emergency involves excessive or uncontrollable bleeding, head injury. difficulty with breathing, severe pain, heart attack, vision impairments, stroke, physically collapsing, or seizure related, rest assured that our professionals will properly assess and evaluate the level of response that will be most needed to help provide stabilized care solutions and minimize complications as well as reduce early mortality.

Holistic Healthcare

We offer healthcare solutions that will support the whole person which includes their physical, psychological, emotional, social, & spiritual wellbeing. Research supports that because your mental state can affect your overall health we support and offer the inclusion of complimentary and alternative medicine(CAM) practitioners and naturopathic doctor recommendations and referrals as a part of our Outreach Community Resource Center’s care regimen and support.


Emergency care can typically result in traumatic injuries for which rehabilitation becomes an essential component of care in trying to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the patient. In addition to speeding up recovery times and helping to prevent further complications, rehabilitative care also helps to support a patient’s self-managed recovery once discharged from our facility. Our Outreach Community Resource Center works closely with our trauma center’s discharge department to assure that patrons requiring these services are linked with qualified professionals who will be accountable to the standard of care required to help the patron be successful in their recovery.

Social Services

Our “state of the art” Outreach Community Resource Center intends to promote “expansive” beneficial community enriching services, programs, case management, & linkage to “approved” partner resources and supports in all of the following intended areas and more:

Social Services

  • Clothing
  • Food Pantry
  • Housing/Shelter
  • I.D. Credentials
  • Senior Wellness Check
  • Toiletries
  • Transportation
  • Etc.

Extended Family Services

  • Child Care
  • Credit Counseling
  • Family Court Services
  • Legal Aide

Career Training

  • Apprenticeship programs
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  • Culinary Program  
  • GED Courses
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  • Job Etiquette & Grooming
  • Resume’ Prep
  • Sales Training
  • Software/Technology workshops
  • Small Business Training

Return Citizen
Program Partner
(Bridging the Gap)

  • Case Management
  • Temporary Boarding/Housing
  • Transitional Program Registration

Prevention/Intervention Outreach,
Workshops, & Programs

  • After-school Behavioral Health Program
  • Civic Engagement / Volunteer Sign-up
  • Fatherhood Rites of Passage
  • Gun Violence Town Hall Forum
  • Life Coaching & Coping Strategies
  • Marriage Counseling Workshops
  • Medicare Informational Workshops
  • Mentorship Training
  • Parental Classes
  • Support Groups
  • Town Hall Discussions
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  • Voter Registration

Nutritional Outreach

  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Dietary Programs
  • Exercise Classes
  • Recipe Sharing Workshops
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Community Outreach

The Healthy DC & Me Leadership Coalition is partnering with the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health advocacy organization to provide outreach services on the community level as an aid in reducing the existent health inequities that many District citizens are facing as a direct result of the presence of debilitating social determinants and the lack of culturally appropriate care choices and realities for community members residing in marginalized and lower-income communities.

It is the vision and intentions of the M.I. Mother’s Keeper Mental Health Advocates organization to help improve the quality of living for citizens living in our Nation’s Capital and beyond by overseeing the delicate linkage to services and by maintaining higher standards of care accountability for deserving citizens of the Nation’s Capital.

For more information or to enroll as one of our service providers, please email us at: