Teens In Rochester, New Hampshire, Form A Club To Reduce Mental Health Stigma

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In the heart of Rochester, New Hampshire, a group of determined high school students at Spaulding High School is taking significant strides to address a pervasive issue among their peers: mental health. Founded in 2023, the Spaulding High School Mental Health Awareness Club aims to destigmatize mental health struggles and provide a supportive community for students navigating these challenges.

The impact of the pandemic has been profound, especially for teenagers who found themselves isolated and reliant on screens for education and social interaction. Isabella Veno, a sophomore at Spaulding, reflects on this, noting, "It definitely secluded us in not being able to express how we feel most of the time, being sucked into our screens and our laptops as our only form of education and communication with other people."

Recent data from a CDC survey underscores the ongoing mental health challenges among New Hampshire high schoolers, revealing that many continue to struggle compared to pre-pandemic levels. For instance, 51% of teen girls reported persistent feelings of hopelessness affecting their daily activities, compared to 28% of boys. Overall, 33% of students reported experiencing stress, depression, or anxiety.

Junior Dylan Gravallese, another club member, sheds light on the unique mental health pressures faced by student athletes. "I do wrestling, and with having to watch your weight, that causes a lot of mental health issues with thinking that you're overweight or you're fat or issues with anxiety," he explains.

While acknowledging the pitfalls of social media on mental health, sophomore Isabella Dumont shares a contrasting perspective. "Social media helped me to see that I wasn't alone and that there were people who could help me," she points out.

Taking proactive steps, the club organized a wellness resource fair last spring to connect students with available support. They are advocating for more mental health training and resources from the school. Responding to these calls, Spaulding High School has committed to training its social workers in Teen Mental Health First Aid. Additionally, starting next school year, sophomore students will receive training to recognize and address mental health issues and identify signs of crisis.

Susan Stearns, executive director of NAMI-New Hampshire, commends the students' efforts and emphasizes the importance of open discussions about mental health. "Our young people are determined that these issues will not go back into the shadows," she states, while also highlighting the need for attention to boys' mental health, noting that they may be less likely to express their emotional struggles openly.

In his hopes for the club's impact, Gravallese emphasizes breaking the stigma surrounding mental health. "I'm hoping that this club will allow us to destigmatize it and bring it into the light, that it's fine if you have a problem and it's okay to get help," he says.

The Spaulding High School Mental Health Awareness Club is more than just a student group; it's a beacon of hope and a model for how young people can lead in addressing mental health issues. By fostering an environment of openness and support, these students are making a profound difference in their community, ensuring that no one has to face their struggles alone.

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