WARREN, NJ – The third in a series of community presentations, “Anxiety and Stress Management,” sponsored jointly by the Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) Healthy Edge Committee, the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), and the Watchung Hills Regional Municipal Alliance (WHRMA), gave parents a discerning look into the murky subject of the mental health challenges faced by teenagers as well as the parents who love them.

“Anxiety and Stress Management” was held on Tuesday, April 30, in the South Auditorium, the same place for the two previous presentations in the 2018-2019 School Year Healthy Edge series: “Raising Drug-Free Teens,” on Tuesday, April 2, and “Vaping Clearing the Air,” on Tuesday night, Nov. 13.

Whereas the previous two nights focused on the alarming rise in the broader use, abuse, and seeming “acceptance” in some quarters of Vaping, this third presentation dealt with giving insights and hints about what to look for, and to look out for, in the relative mental health or mental un-health of teenagers and their parents. Speakers shared how to recognize some of the nuances, including what might be not-so-serious and customary in this age group, as opposed to what should be taken much more seriously, more sensitively, and more professionally. 

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The special guest speakers were Mental Health Therapists John Mopper and Michele Levin, a couple who are co-owners of Blueprint Mental Health, Somerville. Blueprint’s slogan is “Extraordinary Counseling for an Extra-Ordinary Generation.”

They spoke after the audience viewed a documentary, “Angst: Anxiety Disorders Are Real, Common and Treatable.”

The series was brought together through the collective contributions and organization of the Healthy Edge Committee. The committee is organized by WHRHS Health Teacher Jill Gleeson and the WHRHS Health Education team; the WHRHS Guidance Department, including Student Assistance Counselor Kevin Rice; the PTO and its parent volunteers, under the direction of President Aparna Virmani; and the longstanding community group, Watchung Hill Regional Municipal Alliance (WHRMA), with liaison from Jack Walsh, the longtime WHRMA volunteer.

Jack Walsh, and his wife, Somerset County Freeholder Deputy Director and former Mayor of Green Brook Township, Patricia Walsh, have attended all three community presentations. 

As with the other two community presentations, the PTO provided refreshments for the evening. Also like the other presentations, the formal presentation was followed by a lengthy question and answer session.

The documentary film, Angst: Anxiety Disorders are Real, Common and Treatable, featured first person comments by a variety of teens, parents, counselors, and therapists, discussing: Examples of their stress, anxieties and/or their “anxiousness,” and the differences between them; triggers to the onslaught of episodes and waves of stress and anxiety; the frustrations over some of the supportive versus not-so-supportive reactions given by even loved ones to stress and anxieties; and the various coping mechanisms employed by people who are experiencing stress and anxiety episodes. Among the coping techniques and fears articulated include: Adopting shyness; wanting to escape into a shell; feeling out of control of being able to safely respond; and avoiding being able to see, or dig deeper to find the underlining fears that are the root cause of the stress and anxiety. 

There is even the stress and anxiety that learning useful, successful coping mechanisms might sometimes be just postponing coming to grips with the real underling root cause of the fears.

As the Blueprint Mental Health motto implies, the guest speakers are optimistic that there is hope in therapy programs, and in educating both the teens and their caregivers on how best to respond and work through issues and challenges.

One of the highlights of the Angst documentary is an appearance by record-breaking gold medal winner Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps. A very young student in the film, who is physically diminutive in size as well, states one of his steps to dealing with his stress and anxieties was when he found out that Phelps, one of his sports heroes, shared some of the very same anxieties. 

Surprise, surprise, quietly, and without fanfare, Phelps, the basketball star-sized athlete, walks into the picture, and sits beside the pre-teen. At first the child couldn’t believe it, but then the larger than life Phelps transformed himself into a person who shares that he very much has much in-common with the young student. Phelps secured the trust of the young student by sharing some his approaches to discovering, working on, and learning how to reach out, seek help, find someone who truly understands. Then, it was a matter of training himself on how to cope with the stress and anxiety, not unlike how he has to train as an Olympic swimmer. Both take persistence and practice.

WHRHS Health Education Teacher Gleeson and Student Assistance Counselor Rice followed up with a description of the part of the WHRHS Health Education curriculum and services at the high school that are intended to help students to learn about mental health, stress, depression, and anxiety as well as strategies to acquire knowledge and develop skills on how to best deal with them.  

As part of the school’s overall strategy to fulfill goals set forth in the WHRHS Strategic Plan 2015-2020, Healthy Edge has also added Wellness Days for staff and faculty. An annual Health Fair, was held in December, where a broad array of health delivery services and organizations in the community came to the school to share information and offer a variety of health screenings. Among them were offering blood pressure readings administered by the local First Aid Squad, providing basic vision screening by a local optometrist, and having nutritionists from local supermarkets, who spoke about making the most of their fresh produce departments.

Raising Drug-Free Teens

The most recent previous Healthy Edge presentation, “Raising Drug-Free Teens,” reinforced the cautionary message thatinhaling nicotine through “Vaping” can be as dangerous, and potentially more dangerous, than inhaling nicotine through tobacco cigarettes, cigars and pipes. It was intended as a follow-up to another presentation earlier in the school year, “Vaping: Clearing the Air,” held on Tuesday night, Nov. 13. The featuredguest speaker in November was Melissa Tasse, who holds a doctoral degree in pharmacology and is a mother of a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son

Raising Drug-Free Teens guest speaker Police Sgt. Timothy M. Shoemaker, a veteran of the Rahway Police Department, raised some of the same concerns as Tasse. In addition to his work as a patrol officer with the Rahway Police Department, Shoemaker is a trainer, consultant and veteran DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer. He is a sought-after speaker on the subject of Vaping, among other topics. 

Both Shoemaker and Tasse cautioned that vaping liquids and gels now often contain high concentrations of nicotine. Given the highly addictive qualities of nicotine, there is a higher possibility that it might take a far fewer times “vaping” to become seriously addicted to nicotine.

Fewer Societal Warnings

Coupled with that is the fact that there seems to be a sense popular among not just teens, but some adults, in society now that vaping is a less dangerous, less damaging, and less offensive alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes, Shoemaker said. As a result, there also seems to be fewer societal resistances to it. 

He pointed out, for instance, there is no comparable resistance to vaping like the “Just Say No (to Drugs)” campaign of the 1980s. While “Just Say No” did have, and still has, its critics, it was nevertheless widespread, and was bolstered by broad public awareness. It also received catchy messaging from high-profile spokespeople.

By contrast, Shoemaker argued, today’s society appears to be experiencing a relative lull in broad resistance to the switch to vaping. Some statistics he quoted showed a rapid, “in-the-past-five-years” proliferation of vaping delivery systems. Some new packaging sports fetching colorful, almost candy-like packaging. Some popular cigarette companies have even considered abandoning their tobacco-based products in favor of only offering vaping-based products, a sign that vaping must be seen as having potentially as having a future that is that lucrative. 

There is even a “cool” or “in-crowd” like element to the vaping industry in its appeal to potential young customers. He pointed out portions of the garment industry seems to target teens, in particular, by fashioning popular items that have “secret compartments” within which can be stored various associated vaping paraphernalia. 

The concealing compartments are thought to be included to help young vaping enthusiasts conceal Vaping paraphernalia from, for instance, their parents. After all, parents might be understandably curious about whether their teens are experimenting with, or getting hooked on, vaping, Shoemaker explained. The items can be found in a broad range of popular teen garments, like hooded sweat-shirts, jackets, and shirts, sneakers and hats, water bottles, and other popular, equally unsuspecting, under-the-radar products. Shoemaker brought clothes racks and cafeteria-sized tables full of garments and vaping paraphernalia, to exhibit for parents. 

Shoemaker’s broad array of vaping paraphernalia were reminiscent to the ones brought by Tasse and other anti-vaping, advocates to the November Healthy Edge presentation. Among the other advocates at the earlier event was Toni Knoll, executive Director for Strategy & Prevention Initiatives at “Community In Crisis,” Bernardsville, and others from her staff. The Community in Crisis display included the various slick, likely focus-group developed, and demographically-supported new packaging for vaping and tobacco products. 

Colorful new candy-like packaging appears designed to attract young new customers, who may be falsely letting their guard down, adopting the notion that vaping smoking is a “safer” alternative to smoking tobacco. 

Shoemaker asserted that with the possibility of their higher concentrations of nicotine-delivery, there is the new prospect that first-responding rescue squad personnel, police personnel and parents could face the notion of being called to emergencies involving “nicotine overdose” cases.

Few Studies or Regulations

On top of everything else, Showmaker pointed out, as Tasse had pointed out in the Fall, that all this is coming from an industry that is still so relatively new. There are: Relatively few public health and legal regulations developed yet; relatively few scientific studies about short-term and long-term health risks; and relatively few uniform effective and preferable enforcement techniques, or inclusion of vaping for any laws and regulations covering public smoking of tobacco products. There are also relatively few adequate warnings, support groups, cautionary speakers like Shoemaker and Tasse, or parent groups such as a DARE-like equivalent for vaping.

For more about Timothy Shoemaker, go to www.timothyshoenaker.com

Healthy Edge and WHRMA

The WHRHS Healthy Edge Committee is an online resource for the Watchung Hills community to access information, activities, and support related to “Wellness.” The Healthy Edge provides a comprehensive effort to the Watchung Hills community with the resources to enhance the social and emotional wellness of all students. This initiative strives to maximize student development in four key areas: Intellectual Wellness, Emotional Wellness, Social Wellness, and Physical Wellness. 

For more information about Healthy Edge, go to the WHRHS Web site, “www.whrhs.org,” and click on the “Community” button just above the big horizontal photos or the site’s front page. “The Heathy Edge” button is one of four under the “Community” button.

WHRHS has been adopted as a strategic priority to enhance the living-learning experience for the WHRHS community. It strives to offer a variety of Wellness events for students, parents and staff.

The Watchung Hills Regional Municipal Alliance (WHRMA) is a community partnership of volunteers, with a long history of serving the students, parents, and families of Warren Township, Watchung Borough, Green Brook and Long Hill Townships. It is part of the NJ Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. WHRMA identifies community needs and develops prevention programs to address those areas.

WHRMA provides funding for prevention programs in the elementary, middle and high schools as well as for adults and senior citizens. It aims to provide community intervention programs, and give support to local police and school PTOs.

Several community events every year are sponsored by the WHRMA to help support its community efforts. One is the annual Great Pumpkin 5K Run/Fitness Walk in the fall, using the popular 5K course around Watchung Lake and then up to the end of Sunlit Drive, and back, finishing at Mobus Field.



WHRHS PHOTOS Organizers Welcome Anxiety Speaker

Welcoming “Anxiety and Stress Management” speaker andmental health therapist John Mopper of Blueprint Mental Health, fourth right, to Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) on Tuesday, April 30, are, from left: WHRHS Student Assistance Counselor Kevin Rice; Alicia Carmen, of the Watchung Hills Regional Municipal Alliance (WHRMA); Lorie Acciarito of the WHRHS Parent Teacher Organization (PTO); WHRHS Health Education Teacher and Healthy Edge Organizer Jill Gleason; and WHRHS Principal George Alexis. 


WHRHS PHOTOS John Mopper and Michele Levin Blue Print Mental Health

Guest speakers for “Anxiety and Stress Management,” the latest of three Health Edge Committee Community Presentations at WHRHS on April 30, are: Mental Health Therapists John Mopper and Michele Levin. The couple are co-owners of Blueprint Mental Health of Somerville.


WHRHS PHOTOS Somerset County Freeholder Deputy Director Patricia Walsh

Somerset County Freeholder Deputy Director Patricia Walsh, center, former mayor of Green Brook Township and volunteer with the Watchung Hills Regional Municipal Alliance (WHRMA), was among those in attendance at the Healthy Edge Committee’s Community presentation, “Anxiety and Stress Management. With her are, from left, WHRHS PTO Volunteers Ana Cobas and Lorie Acciarito, Patricia Walsh, PTO President Aperna Virmani, and Jack Walsh, longtime WHRMA organizer and Patricia Walsh’s husband.


WHRHS PHOTOS Raising Drug-Free Teens Speaker

Guest speaker Police Sgt. Timothy M. Shoemaker, center,addressed issues of concern about the rise in the popularity of “Vaping” on Tuesday, April 2, in the South Auditorium of Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS). The presentation, “Raising Drug-Free Teens,” was another in a series of “Let’s Talk” presentations, sponsored by the school’s “Healthy Edge” Committee and PTO (Parent Teacher Organization). Welcoming Sgt. Shoemaker are, from left: WHRHS Student Assistance Counselor (SAC) Kevin Rice; PTO Vice President Ana Cobas; Aparna Virmani, PTO President; and WHRHS Physical Education and Health Teacher Jill Gleeson, who organizes the WHRHS Healthy Edge Committee. The presentation was a follow-up to another presentation earlier in the school year, also sponsored by the Healthy Edge Committee and the WHRHS PTO, titled, “Vaping: Clearing the Air,” with guest speaker, Melissa Tasse.


WHRHS PHOTOS Police Sgt. Timothy Shoemaker

Guest speaker Police Sgt. Timothy M. Shoemaker said thatconcealing compartments have been built-in to some brands of popular-among-teens garments, such as hooded sweat-shirts, jackets, and shirts, sneakers and hats. There are also water bottles, and other popular, equally unsuspecting, under-the-radar products that have hidden compartments. They are designed, in part, to help young vaping enthusiasts conceal vaping paraphernalia and/or vaping liquids and gels from, for instance, their parents. After all, parents might be understandably curious about whether their teens are experimenting with, or getting hooked on, vaping, Shoemaker explained. 


WHRHS PHOTOS Vaping Speaker Melissa Tasse

Melissa Tasse was the guest speaker at the Healthy Edge Community Presentation, “Vaping: Clearing the Air,” held on Tuesday night, Nov. 13. She holds a doctoral degree in pharmacology and is a mother of a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. Like the speaker at the April 2 Health Edge Community Presentation “Raising Drug-Free Teens,” Tasse warned against the use of vaping products that have high concentrations of nicotine. Addiction to nicotine can happen much faster because of those concentrations of that highly addictive drug.