By Adam Duxter

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. (WCCO) – Students from Mounds View High School took to Long Lake Park with the hopes of starting a conversation about mental health Sunday.

In a partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, nearly 50 students and adults gathered for a benefit walk at the park. The event featured art, music, food and speakers who shared stories about their journeys with depression and anxiety.

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“When you talk to people around you … a lot of other people are struggling with similar things and that it’s not just you,” said Maddie Terwilliger, a Mounds View Senior who co-chaired the event. “It really helps people to see that they’re not alone in their struggles.”

According to Centers for Disease Control data, suicide is currently the second leading cause of death for high school students. In a White House memo commemorating May as Mental Health Awareness Month, President Joe Biden noted the pandemic has exacerbated the issue, especially for young people.

“Being in isolation and having just like a global, nationwide, just like unrest, I think it’s created a lot of anxieties in people’s lives,” Terwilliger said. “I think people have struggled with that mentally, especially with isolation.”

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“It’s just like any other illness, any physical or emotional illness,” said Marion Sterk-Ciresi, who also served as event co-chair. “The more we talk about it, the more awareness there is, the better we can help people get to the resources they need to help themselves.”

Through raindrops, the group that gathered Sunday placed an emphasis on creating an open dialogue about mental health struggles, with counselors on-site to connect with students if necessary.

“If one person could see all of the people that are here gathered to support them and feel safe and feel like they are being heard and represented, then maybe next time they’re struggling they can reach out,” Sterk-Ciresi said.

This is the fourth year Mounds View students have hosted a mental health benefit walk, and the first year back in person following a COVID-19-induced hiatus.

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“The more people that talk about (mental health), I mean, the better it gets,” Terwilliger said.

Adam Duxter