Mental health issues on the rise: Getting help and offering support


Mr. Anthony Alvarado (center), president and co-founder of Rise Together, interacts with the CHS student body and faculty during an all school assembly in the Engler Center on March 8. Rise Together, an Appleton-based organization that advocates for mental health and addiction recovery nationally, also spoke with Chilton middle schoolers and community members.

Sophie Brandt

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and like every other school around the nation, Chilton is not exempt from the growing mental health crisis.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), roughly 20 percent of youth ages 13-18 are currently struggling with mental health, and this number only includes those who have had the courage to speak up about their health. It is estimated that millions more suffer in silence.

“Every day is different, but most days are a struggle,” said Jane (name has been changed), a CHS student who is currently facing anxiety and depression head on. Jane said she is supported by her family and counselor, but that “Getting out of bed and finding the motivation to go on is often really hard for me.”

Her issues began in middle school, with one mental challenge spurring another. “Anxiety turned to self-hate, and that hate turned into depression,” said Jane. “I jumped around friend groups, not knowing who I was or what I wanted. I felt hopeless and useless.”

Many professionals blame the stigma around mental health on one thing: ignorance. While today’s youth seem particularly open-minded, the idea that mental health is no more than “feelings” continues to be prevalent.
Describing common mental health issues such as depression or anxiety as “chemical imbalances” is still barely scraping the surface.

According to a 2010 Harvard Medical School study, the brain’s size may be the obstacle. In this study, PET scans of adult brains with depression were compared to those without, and researchers found that the size of the
hippocampus, the region of the brain believed to be responsible for memory and emotion, was significantly smaller in those with depression than those without.

While depression is considered the most publicized mental health issue, it can be the base of any other health disorder, such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders. Nationally, 11 percent of youth struggle with a mood disorder, and an additional 8 percent live with anxiety disorders, according to NAMI. The Harvard study may highlight the base of the problem.

CHS has hosted many programs and activities to help students cope with the overwhelming burden of mental health issues, such as a March presentation on mental health and addiction by Rise Together, an Appleton- based group hoping to promote advocacy in young people through speaking about drugs, alcohol and mental health-related problems.

Rise Together also introduced CHS to Crave 21, a challenge that calls upon participants to give up a bad habit, or crave, for three weeks. Over 200 CHS students and faculty took the Crave 21 pledge and participated in three weeks of programs to encourage the adoption of good habits. CHS’s own Suicide Prevention Committee and Gay Straight Alliance organized that effort.

Although these and other mental health-related initiatives have been well received by the CHS community, Chilton is still not exempt from the statistics. “I liked (Rise Together) . . . but school is a very challenging place for me,” said Jane.

According to, 13.8 percent of school-aged students seriously considered suicide. Furthermore, of the youth who attempt suicide, 90 percent struggle with mental health issues. Putting these numbers into perspective, that would be 55 out of the roughly 400 CHS students attempting to take their own lives, with 50 of those students having
struggled with mental health issues.

Hunter Bunnell, a CHS alumnus, is no stranger to these numbers. His brother, Jake, an outdoor enthusiast, student and friend, died by suicide in 2016, but Hunter says his memory will not be forgotten. “I think of him every hour of the day,” Hunter said.

Hunter said that noticeable warning signs of suicidal thoughts or actions can also be subtle, or in some cases, rarely there. “. . . I never saw any signs that he was going to (die by suicide). I was talking to him the day prior . . . just chilling out and watching a show on T.V.,” said Hunter. “I knew he was struggling with socializing . . . he would post on his Snapchat, saying he felt like no one cared about him. I always tried my best to give him support.”

For Jane, that same type of support was life-changing. “My mom and counselor are always there for me . . . without them, I wouldn’t be here today.”

To those struggling with mental health issues, a little goes a long way. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline recommends four simple steps when assisting a loved one through a mental health crisis:
● Take everything the victim may reveal about their mental health
seriously (never believe someone may be doing it “just for attention”).
● Listen with empathy and support, being sure to sympathize and
vocalize support.
● Memorize the warning signs and continuously watch for them.
● Never keep secrets.
Many youth will confide in loved ones and ask them to not share any harmful information, but in a mental health situation, secrets can kill.

For many parents, supporting a child with mental health challenges can be a daunting task, with many citing not knowing what to say in fear of saying something wrong. Hunter believes being there for the loved one is all it takes: “Try to find help with a therapist (or) counselor, and surround them with good friends to spend time with and get them into a daily routine to make the days go by smoother.”

Loved ones of those who die by suicide are left with many questions. “Life felt more ‘blah’ and grim, and I was full of denial and anger . . . I still don’t know why he did it,” said Hunter. “It’s very haunting.”

Today, many recent numbers on mental health issues come from a 2014 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a nationwide group founded by two Wisconsin mothers who were at a loss when it came to helping their sons. presents a multitude of links to local support groups, helplines and tips for parents struggling to help children with mental health issues.

For this Mental Health Awareness May, NAMI has also created #CureStigma, a quiz that helps anyone willing to take it to identify any unknown stigmas they may harbor and that celebrates those who are #StigmaFree.

For further assistance and support in guiding their child through mental health struggles, parents may also reach out to the school, a family doctor, psychiatrist or an adult the child trusts.

To get help, students may talk to Mrs. Denys Mallmann, CHS’s school counselor, or anonymously text or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). NAMI also offers a helpline for any kind of situation at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or text “NAMI” to 741741. NAMI also recommends reaching out to a family doctor, a friend or even a close teacher because no life is worth losing.