LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – May is Mental Health Awareness Month and according to data from the CDC, last year more than 1/3 of all high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And 44% of them reported they continually felt sad or hopeless during the past year.

6 News’ Sheri Jones recently met with Holt Senior Zoran Brickey who shared his personal story of how grief and the COVID-19 pandemic rocked his world – and how his support system of teachers, friends and family helped get him through.

Brickey lost his father to suicide during his sophomore year at the start of the pandemic. His world turned upside down.

One of Zoran’s teachers, Erin Umpstead checked in with him when he was having a rough day. He opened up and shared with her that at times he had an overwhelming feeling of emptiness.

“I knew I was in a bad place, but my friends would always be there to talk to me, the teachers would talk to me and my mom,” Zoran said.

According to the CDC, when students like Zoran have a sense of being cared for, supported and belonging at school compared to those who did not, they were significantly less likely to seriously consider attempting suicide or attempt suicide.

Thanks to teachers like Miss Umpstead and a sense of community, Zoran has found meaning in life. He is a scholar-athlete with a 3.7 GPA, with a leadership role on the Holt lacrosse team. He is headed to Western Michigan University in the Fall to study finance.

A path, just a few years ago he never thought he would be on, but because of his resilience, he overcame many obstacles.

Nationwide, there’s been discussion around the mental health crisis that would come in the wake of COVID, and now the trends are showing up in the classroom.

The CDC says the pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental well being

In fact, data also shows more than 1/3 (36%) of students said they experienced racism before or during the COVID-19 pandemic. The highest levels were reported among Asian students (64%) and Black students and students of multiple races (both 55%).

The CDC’s data also reveals that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and female youth reported greater levels of poor mental health, emotional abuse by a parent or caregiver, and having attempted suicide than their counterparts.

Zoran says he leaned on his strong support system that’s been with him every step of the way. And for him, it was the difference-maker.

“If I can get through this, I can get through a lot more. I kind of put a positive outlook and just to remember to cherish the things you have while you still have them,” he said.

“The more times we can recognize them for the good work they’re doing. The more we’re going to find that people blossom much like Zoran into leaders,” said Umpstead.