Students step up to help peers weather the winter woes

Students step up to help peers weather the winter woes

Hope Squad and DECA’s Happiness Project put the focus on mental health for students.

Many high school teens experience mental health issues that affect their day-to-day life. In fact, 1 in 5 teenagers in the U.S. have had a serious mental illness in their life, according to the CDC. Many students are prone to losing hope during the winter, which is why it is extra important to spread awareness at this time of year.

There are many different ways teens can reach out for help, one of which is Hope Squad. But what exactly is Hope Squad? It’s an organization dedicated to helping teens reach out for support as well as working toward increasing awareness about suicide risks.

The school’s Hope Squad is sponsored by Mr. Kyle Kruse and Ms. Alli Andersen. Students who are a part of Hope Squad are nominated by peers to provide a helping hand to those who need it. Teens can reach out to members if they ever need a friend to talk to or if they have questions about mental health.

There are 28 Titan students in Hope Squad you can reach out to, one of whom is senior Haley Walts. Walts sees her role as being a mental health advocate seeking to end the stigma around mental health.

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“Approaching someone who is struggling, especially if you don’t know them as well, can seem terrifying,” Walts said. “But if we can collectively be better at reaching out and checking in on one another, our community will be so much better for it.”

Walts offered advice on how to tell if someone is struggling, though warning signs are rarely obvious. Noticing an usually extroverted friend becoming a little more quiet or a kindhearted classmate becoming irritable can all be signs, Walts said.

“Even if you’re not certain there is anything wrong, it doesn’t hurt to check on them anyways,” Walts said. “If they’re not struggling, no harm is done, and if they are struggling, now they know someone notices and cares.”

Walts also emphasized the importance of reaching out as someone who may be dealing with difficulties. Students should never feel alone during their journey no matter how “minor” their situation seems, she said.

“[Hope Squad] works to create a culture in our school where mental health isn’t taboo, but rather a topic that is widely discussed and valued, so that everyone feels they have someone to turn to for support,” Walts said.

If students ever feel they need someone to talk to, especially when classes become more demanding and the weather becomes more dreary, Hope Squad is always here to help.

Emily Cortes, a member of Hope Squad and DECA, also wants to spread awareness of mental health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cortes discovered the Happiness Project through a repost on a friend’s Instagram story.

“I clicked on their link and saw that they were a clothing brand, and it was really cool,” Cortes said. “I loved the simplicity of everything and what they stand for.”

The Happiness Project’s stated mission is to spread happiness and support those affected by mental health issues, and it donates 15% of all its profits to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Cortes, who has continued following the Happiness Project on Instagram, said her DECA partner, senior Agau Bol, also has been heavily involved with mental health. Because of this, the two decided for their DECA project that they would collaborate with the Happiness Project.

Through their project, students have until Nov. 9 to order a T-shirt from the Happiness Project, and $5 of the $21 cost will be donated to mental health resources. Cortes and Bol are encouraging students to wear their Happiness Project shirts to the Dec. 8 varsity basketball games at Papio South.

Here’s the link to make a purchase:

Click to order Happiness Project shirts 

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