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Rochester high schoolers form a club to help their peers amid mental health struggles

Five students smile and talk around a table in a classroom
Jackie Harris
/
NHPR
Students created the Spaulding High School Mental Health Awareness Club in 2023. Members say the pandemic isolated teenagers, affecting their communication skills and reliance on social media.

A new CDC survey of New Hampshire high schoolers finds that while the number of teens struggling with their mental health is slightly decreasing, it’s still higher than pre-pandemic levels, especially among girls.

The Youth Risk Behavior survey data, collected in 2023, shows 51% of teen girls said persistent feelings of hopelessness stopped them from doing usual activities, compared to 28% of boys. Thirty-three percent of students reported struggling with their mental health in general, including feeling stressed, depressed and anxious.

At Spaulding High School in Rochester, students started a club this school year to destigmatize mental health issues among students.

Editor's note: We recommend listening to the audio above to hear from students at Spaulding High School’s Mental Health Awareness Club. 

Isabella Veno, a sophomore and member of Spaulding’s Mental Health Awareness Club, was in middle school when the pandemic started. She says it still has a lingering effect on students.

“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,” Veno said. “I think it definitely impacted our communication skills and our ability to be ourselves around people.”

Five students stand smiling in front of a white board
Jackie Harris
/
NHPR
Members of the Spaulding High School Mental Health Awareness Club hope to destigmatize mental health among their peers.

Junior Dylan Gravallese says he sees fellow student athletes struggle with their mental health, too.

“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. And [that] can cause further issues in the future,” Gravallese said.

Most students in the club say social media negatively impacts their peers’ mental health, but sophomore Isabella Dumont pointed out that it can also lead people towards help.

“I had a therapist for about a year, but I always had a hard time talking about my feelings. So for me, it didn't completely help,” Dumont said. “Social media helped me to see that I wasn't alone and that there were people who could help me.”

Jackie Harris
/
NHPR

This spring the club members organized a wellness resource fair for students to see what support was available to them. They are among the Spaulding students asking for more mental health training and resources from the school. In response, the school says its social workers will receive training in Teen Mental Health First Aid, and in the next school year sophomore students will get the same training to learn about mental health issues and the signs of someone in crisis.

Susan Stearns, the executive director of the mental health advocacy group NAMI-New Hampshire, says teenagers talking more openly about mental health is one of the silver linings of the pandemic.

“Our young people are determined that these issues will not go back into the shadows, that we will not allow stigma and discrimination to prevent people from seeking help and supporting each other,” Stearns said.

Stearns also warns that the difference in numbers between teenage girls and boys’ mental health in the CDC survey could come down to girls being more open about their emotional state.

“I would remind parents, and educators and others who work with young people that sometimes boys are not going to be as good at sharing those emotional states. And we need to still check in with them, have those conversations.”

Gravallese says students will often hide their mental health struggles, because they are afraid of getting made fun of by their peers

“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.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, you can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8.

Jackie Harris is the Morning Edition Producer at NHPR. She first joined NHPR in 2021 as the Morning Edition Fellow.

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