Health and food insecurity have always been sensitive subjects, yet numerous studies have shown that staying silent about these topics can fuel long-lasting stigmas. Franklin Social Worker Jed McClean believes these stigmas are fueled not just by fear of talking about it but also, by religious, cultural, and other societal pressures. He and other Franklin staff have observed students unwilling to ask for important help because of this. So what are the resources available to students, and how, why, and when does the stigma around these resources affect their use?
The two most common issues students at Franklin need major support for are mental health and food insecurity, and while there are many different resources available to students, they often feel hidden by stigma and lack of knowledge. One such service is the Backpack Program hosted by the SUN program, which allows for a student in need of grocery assistance to sign up to pick up a backpack full of groceries. “If you feel like your family only has so much funds and you would rather not worry about groceries this week, you can sign up for that program,” says Genavie Reyes, the SUN manager at Franklin. To sign up for the program students can go to the SUN Program section of the Franklin website: Under the Family Resource section, the Backpack Program will appear with a link to a sign up form.
Another important resource is the Client Assistance Form. “It basically asks what kind of financial assistance you need,” says Reyes.“So that looks like rent, utilities, household food, or sometimes we can offer medical [coverage].” The form is used as a jumping off place where people can get quick redirection to a service to help with whatever need they have. This form can be found in the same spot as the Backpack Form.
Even though lunch is no longer free, a free school-provided meal still exists. Students can go to the cafeteria after school where a free meal will be available for any student.
Another resource offered by SUN is the Tutoring Help resource, where students can go to the library, sign in with a QR code, and be connected with tutoring help. ASPIRE is a program aimed at helping students, primarily juniors and seniors, prepare for life after high school, and the form for that is also found under the SUN section of the FHS website. Reyes urges any student looking for more information about any of the SUN programs to head to the SUN Room located inside of FHS at SS-110 or the SUN Instagram page, @franklinhs_sun.
The Health Clinic (located near the bookkeeper’s office) offers physical exams, COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, mental health counseling, and much more. On a larger scale the Franklin High School Resource Center, which can be found on the Franklin website is a great tool. “The resource page would be intended as school wide, any student, any family can access that and find what they need,” says McClean.
The Franklin Resource Center serves as a hub to many community or state wide resources available to students including rent/utility assistance, an Oregon Health Plan application, unemployment insurance, health care, internet benefits, and most interestingly: a laundry service. Laundry Love is an organization that helps to make laundry more accessible, and the nearest laundromat to Franklin that’s partnered with Laundry Love is Woodstock Laundry. At Woodstock Laundry via Laundry Love, it is free to clean your clothes there on the first and third Wednesday of every month. All of these resources can be found on the FHS Resource Center page.
Stigmas can lead students to avoid seeking many of these resources. The word “stigma” is defined by Oxford Dictionary as a “mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” One such circumstance is the mental health issues facing approximately 52.9 million adults in the US in 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and the food insecurity crisis affecting 13.5 million households in the US as of 2021, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
The other part of a stigma described by Oxford is the “mark of disgrace.” Reyes theorizes that this mark is tied into the need for help, the “stigma of, ‘you need something and I don’t.’” This means that stigmatization occurs on a societal level when someone is shamed both directly and indirectly for needing help.
The effects of these pressures are often extremely damaging. A study published in the Journal of Public Health by Rebekka Shnepper, Jens Blechert, and F. M. Stok showed that when comparing individuals given stigmatizing and non-stigmatizing messaging about trying to lose weight, the stigmatized group made less healthy choices overall during the one-to-two year period. Effects also include a lack of understanding from friends, family, social activities, or others, a reluctance to seek help, and trouble finding housing.
The effects of this stigma are clearly felt at Franklin, especially regarding students’ reactions to the Backpack Program according to Reyes. “We’ve had students who would sign up and not pick up the food we’ve had students come in and say that they don’t want to be a part of it,” Reyes continues, “one, its heavy, and two they have to walk home or they don’t want other students to know that they are carrying a backpack because of the program.” This sense of shame only leads to one thing: kids and families with less food and more anxiety.
McClean believes it’s important that Franklin better broadcast the existence of these additional resources to students. He also believes that the only way to break down these barriers is to talk about it. “I think the more we can talk about our own experiences that would help with the stigma,” he says. Reyes says that educating others about mental health and coming together as a community can be a great way of getting the conversation started and helping to further topple these long lasting stigmas: “It takes a village, it’s a community thing. If we all rise together at the same time we’re all eating, instead of struggling.”