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Miramar High School club focuses on teen mental health

Hope Sunshine Club brings counselors, students together to talk mental health

MIRAMAR, Fla. – In a second-floor classroom at Miramar High School, students take part in a unique club.

"I’m going to start off with a few questions about how you feel," 16-year-old Fidel Perez-Pujols said.

Perez-Pujols is leading this meeting of the Hope Sunshine Club, which was founded by the parents of a Weston, Florida boy who took his own life.

Senior Kyler Dixon once felt she was headed down a similar path.

"I guess I started having negative thoughts right around eighth grade. A lot of environmental factors triggered that, like family, school and relationships," Dixon said.

She began harming herself and even contemplated suicide before she was introduced to the club.

"It was a safe space to come and express your feelings and open up and share experiences," Dixon said.

The Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention was instrumental in helping create the foundation for the Hope Sunshine Club, which was initiated eight years ago primarily in Broward County secondary schools.

"We gathered a few student leaders and based on what they wanted to do and how they felt mental health was affecting them and their community, we built projects from that and we built ideas from that," said certified school counselor Bianca Jones.

Students and counselors come together to address issues like bullying, substance abuse and suicide.

"If we don’t address mental health it’s going to be a really big problem in the direction that it’s going, so I feel that me, personally, I need to do my job and have an impact on my community so people can start looking for help," Perez-Pujols said.

Child psychologist Dr. Mitch Spero applauded the effort and the recent mandate by the state of Florida that requires a minimum of five hours of mental health instruction in public schools beginning in sixth grade.

"This program I think will help young children and adolescents and young adults realize that seeking help is much more a sign of strength than a sign of weakness," Spero said.

Participants in the Hope Sunshine Club said they have developed tools to cope with stressful situations and an understanding that they are not alone.

"I was having suicidal thoughts and now I see a future with success and happiness," Dixon said.