Looking at Hunter Brinker you would see a girl with bright colored and dark clothing, a girl with a dark sense of humor but with a big heart for her friends. You may judge her appearance and make assumptions, but this girl has faced more than some people can ever imagine.
Brinker is a victim of years of mental illness, and not just her own, her family also experiences types of mental illness. Her experiences are what have made Brinker a strong advocate for mental health and for the aid of those suffering from it. Hunter Brinker has suffered from depression and social anxiety for five years. She says that medication for her social anxiety has helped ease the burden and she finds comfort in poetry, music, and drawing, all which she uses as an outlet for her emotions. She didn’t always have outlets that were as constructive.
“I used to heavily self harm,” Hunter admits. “I felt it was the only way to cope, and when I did I barely understood my own feelings and problems. Looking back on those days still give me nightmares. I felt so alone back then. I still have scars to show for that regret. They’ll haunt me forever.”
Nobody can dispute that mental illness is a serious issue in our society, and some of the most obvious victims are teenagers. One out of five teens suffer from some form of mental illness; that means that 20 percent of the teenage population is suffering. This raises the question as to why. Why is it our age group that suffers so severely ? Can the stress of school and expectations be what is causing a rise in mental illness?
“There are different types of stress,” said sophomore Olivia Robertucci, who said she believes that stress can be induced by multiple different factors, school being one of them.
No student should have to suffer panic and anxiety attacks over things like schoolwork, other students, or testing, but if you were to poll high school students it would be apparent that multiple students are affected by problems such as these. Is the stigma that surrounds these types of health issues another reason why so many people go untreated or even undiagnosed?
Members of the guidance department at Southmoreland have recognized that overall there has been an increase in mental disorders, especially anxiety disorders in teens, but they have declined to specify whether this trend is showing in our school. Mental health is a tricky subject for many to understand and to cope with; this is why the treatment and even discussions of these types of disorders can be very situational.
Studies show that teens often feel that there is something wrong with them and do not wish to discuss their troubles with parents, guardians or school staff and guidance counselors. A stigma is pressuring teens into silence and making them feel more isolated.
“As a school we need a better sense of connectivity,” said Mrs. Andrea Hanford, guidance counselor. “Typically the students who are most affected by these mental issues are those who are the most lonely. Our administration is not doing anything wrong, but there are ways we could be doing better.”
Robertucci said that all schools need “a better guidance system. Most stress centralizes in school. If we had a better environment, students would feel more comfortable and would have a better time handling outside stress.”
Sophomore Hailey Croushore agreed. “You can always do better when it comes to situations like this.”
Many students in the school would agree that the school should take more steps in aiding those with mental illness and helping to prevent students from getting them due to school related issues. Some students have thought about areas within the school were people can go to get away from the pressure of classes, and others have even talked about wanting to start clubs where students can have an escape. Some students even think that mental health examinations should be done by the school to help provide the safest mental state for the students.
“I think the school should do mental health screenings,” said sophomore Elle Kenney. “Doctors don’t do it until there are already signs, and many parents refuse to take their children to get checked for the fear of judgment. Doing screenings at school would be a better alternative for the students.”
Brinker agrees that these screenings would be useful.
“So many people go their whole lives never being diagnosed because they don’t have the resources,” Brinker said. “This could help more people find treatment and help start a journey to recovery.”
Just as October is breast cancer awareness month, May is mental health awareness month, April is stress awareness month, and March is self harm awareness month, but many do not realize that these awareness efforts even exist. These events were created to spread awareness but have failed to get their message out the way it was intended. If more students were made aware and knew that there was representation for them in their darkest moments, that could easily make a huge difference in many people’s lives.
One of the most common outlets for students to discuss these issues when they feel comfortable enough to is to go to a teacher. One of these teachers is Mrs. Jenna Hixson, who said that on average she has students of all grades come to her weekly to talk about mental health and other personal issues. This has been a common trend since Hixson started teaching more than 10 years ago.
“It hurts my heart to see this,” Mrs. Hixson said.”The biggest thing I wish is those caught in the thralls of depression could see the happy world they could live in. This is the perfect age for screenings to occur; catching mental illness young is the key to managing it. If not caught early, it can control your life, but when it is seen earlier it is easier to manage.”
Not only do students and some staff agree that teens should be getting mental health exams, but so does Pennsylvania Senator Guy Reschenthaler, who spoke about his views on mental health issues and what he hopes to do to help teenagers and adults who suffer from mental health disorders.
“I am pushing a bill through that would require students from 6th to 11th to receive mental health screenings,” said Sen. Reschenthaler. “The screenings would be zero cost to taxpayers, but I would like to increase fundings for the schools to make this more possible.”
Sen. Reschenthaler said not only does he believe that mental health is an issue in teens, but also in our society that has a very consequential effect. He said he believes that mental health is one of the root causes of crime, abuse, and substance abuse as well as gun violence and mass shootings.
Sen. Reschenthaler is advocating a gun violence restraining bill which will prohibit any potential gun owner that has any mental health issues that are considered a danger to buy a gun until they receive treatment and are determined sane of mind by a judge in court.
“Citizens have the right of protection, but those who can harm others should not have guns,” he said. “We cannot eliminate a citizen’s rights, but we must eliminate the chance of people who have the potential to harm others.”
Sen. Reschenthaler said he supports the President Trump’s plan to ban bump stocks. The Senator explained how bump stocks turn semi-automatic weapons into fully-automatic weapons which are already illegal to civilians. In the state of California, the state government has already banned bump stocks.
Sophomore Olivia Robertucci and junior Kaelei Whitlatch are hoping to see the establishment of a mental health club at Southmoreland.
A little over two years ago, Whitlatch discovered something called “Project Buddy” on Twitter. Project Buddy was created by Gabby Frost, when she was a teenager, with the intention to match up people with similar interests to communicate and to be a support for those suffering with mental health issues and with ending the stigma attached to mental health. Whitlatch signed up to become a student representative but admits that she “didn’t have the motivation or someone with the right energy” to get the project off the ground at the time. She introduced Robertucci to the idea after her school safety panel.
According to buddy-project.org, Gabby Frost began Buddy project on April 8, 2013, when she we 15 years old after discovering that many of her friends were suffering from mental health issues; specifically when three girls contemplated suicide on Twitter. Frost believed that pairing people with an online friend could help prevent suicide and allow for a peer support group. Hence, the non-profit organization Buddy Project was formed.
“This is the beginning of Southmoreland’s revolution,” Robertucci said. “We are getting ready for a change and this is the start.” Both girls have ideas on what they hope that Mrs. Hixson will be able to sponsor the club.
As these issues become more apparent in society, more steps are being taken by the country overall to change this, but change is caused by people, and without changes being made we will never be able to manage this epidemic. In the world today mental health affects teens all across the world and even in our small school. By pretending it doesn’t exist only causes more issues; the school must accept that these issues are real and that many of their students suffer from this, it is up to students, faculty and administration to work together to make this issue less of a problem.
When Hunter Brinker removed herself from her situation and thought about what she wished someone could say to her in her darkest moments, she said she wanted people facing mental health issue to remember her words: “Never be afraid to reach out and know you aren’t the only one suffering this way. There are others out there just like you. You aren’t alone.”