Students navigate through world of stress, mental health issues

People often see Hunter Brinker as a girl with bright colored hair and dark clothing, a girl with a dark sense of humor but with a big heart for her friends. She may be judged by her appearance, but that would result in an inaccurate assumption about the Southmoreland sophomore.

Despite a positive outward appearance, Brinker has faced more difficulties in life than some people could ever imagine.

Hunter Brinker is a victim of years of mental illness, and not just her own; her family also experiences various 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.

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, however.

“I used to heavily self harm,” Hunter admitted recently. “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, and I regret that they’ll haunt me forever.”

Mental illness is a serious issue in our society, and some of the most fragile victims are teenagers. According to, one out of five teens suffer from some form of mental illness, meaning that 20 percent of the teenage population is suffering. This raises the question as to why is it that this age group suffers so severely.

While some believe the stress of school and expectations are causing a rise in mental illness, one high school student believes there are more than one cause.

“There’s different types of stress,” said junior Olivia Robertucci, who added that she believes 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,” Robertucci said.

Some students voiced concerns that the stigma that surrounds these types of health issues may be another reason why so many people go untreated or even undiagnosed.

Southmoreland High School guidance counselors  have recognized that overall there has been an increase in mental disorders, especially anxiety disorders in teens, but they have declined to comment on whether this trend is showing in our school.

Mental health is a difficult 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. Teens often feel that there is something wrong with them and do not wish to discuss their troubles with guardians or school staff and guidance counselors; stigma is pressuring teens into silence and making them feel more isolated.

“As a school we need a better sense of connectivity,” said Mrs. Hanford. “Typically the students who are most affected by these mental issues are those who are the most lonely.”

Robertucci believes school staff can help students in a variety of ways.

“Our administration is not doing anything wrong, but there are ways they could be doing more,” Robertucci said.

Junior Hailey Croushore agreed.

“We need a better (support) system,” Croushore said. “Most stress centralizes in school, so if there was a better school environment, students would feel more comfortable and would have a better time handling outside stress.”

Robertucci summed up both girls’ views: “You can always do better when it comes to situations like this.”

There are students who would agree that the school should offer additional support to  aid those with mental illnesses 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.

Elle Kenney, a junior, thinks 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, 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,” Kenney said. “Doing screenings at school would be a better alternative for the students.”

Brinker agreed that these screenings would be useful.

“So many people go their whole lives never being diagnosed because they don’t have the resources,” said Brinker. “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. Unfortunately, many people 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.

Students interviewed for this story sid they believe that if more students were made aware and knew that there was support for them in their darkest moments, it could easily make a huge difference in many people’s lives.

One of the most accessible outlets for students to discuss these issues when they feel comfortable enough to is to go to a teacher. One of these teachers, Mrs. Jenna Hixson, said that 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 Mrs. Hixson started teaching more than 10 years ago.

“It hurts my heart to see this,” she said. “The biggest thing I wish is in the thralls of depression, students 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 a person’s 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 (R), 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 Reschenthaler. “The screenings would be zero cost to taxpayers, but I would like to increase fundings for the schools to make this more possible.”

Reschenthaler said he not only believes that mental health is an important issue for 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.

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 to be of sound mind by a judge in court. He emphasized that he is not opposed to citizens having guns. “Citizens have the right of protection, but those who can harm others should not have guns.”

“We cannot eliminate a citizen’s rights, but we must eliminate the chance of people who have the potential to harm others” from accessing guns, he said.

Reschenthaler said he supports President Trump’s plan to ban bump stocks; he explained how bump stocks turn semi-automatic weapons into fully-automatic weapons which are already illegal to civilians.

In California, the state government has already banned bump stocks. Reschenthaler said that he is more focused on this becoming a nationwide effort more than just with individual states.

Senior Kaelei Whitlatch is hoping to eventually establish a mental health club at Southmoreland. A little over two years ago, Whitlatch discovered a program 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. According to, Gabby Frost began Buddy project on April 8th, 2013, when she was 15 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.

Whitlatch said she signed up to become a student representative but admits that she “didn’t have the motivation or was someone with the right energy” to get the project off the ground at the time.  She introduced junior Olivia Robertucci Robertucci to the idea.

“This is the beginning of Southmoreland’s revolution. We are getting ready for a change and this is the start,” said Robertucci. Both Whitlatch and Robertucci have ideas on what they would want and hope to find a teacher willing to sponsor the club.

When Brinker removed herself from her situation, she 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.”

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