American teenagers have undergone drastic changes in recent years. Three decades ago, the gravest public health threats to teens in the United States came from binge drinking, drunken driving, teenage pregnancy and smoking. There was the “Just Say No” campaign to address drug usage and the establishment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, focused on drinking and driving, each taking on the concerns of the day for teenagers. These issues have drastically fallen, replaced by a new public health concern for teens: soaring rates of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression and suicide.
To raise awareness, one local teenager, Abbie Merhoff, organized the First Annual Stroll Into Light Candlelight Walk which was held on Sunday, November 13, 2022 at Mt. Tabor High School in Winston-Salem.
“I saw friends and those close to me, especially during and post Covid, were isolated, with little social interaction, so anxiety and depression were issues they were struggling with; yet no one wanted to talk about either until a tragedy occurs, and then we all discuss suicide and what could’ve been done. A Stroll Into Light was a recognition that each person is fighting his or her own battle each and every day, whether that be anxiety or depression, or any mental health related issue; no one person should feel alone in their situation,” said Abbie. To that end, Abbie worked with local businesses and got sponsors for the event.
“We were so fortunate to get great support from the community. Teen mental health is a topic that everyone wants to do something proactive about, but they just don’t know what to do or how to get the message out that you don’t have to suffer in silence. Teenagers can be obsessed with social media and making their life and relationships seem perfect, that family and friends may not even know there’s anxiety, depression or worse going on. Or they can get caught up in school and extracurricular activities that they wear themselves out, which can lead to mental health issues. As a community, we must support each other and be advocates for peoples’ stories to be shared. Our presenting sponsors for Stroll Into Light included FitNut, Fleet Feet, Handy & Handy Orthodontics, Merhoff & Associates, and Performance Driven PT. Gold sponsors included Pottery by Maddie Bea, Mt. Tabor Cross Country, Wood & Hogan Consulting, F45, Two Cities Church, Drs. Shehan, Smith and Russell Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, and Mutch Love for Kim, as well as a host of other sponsors. I am so humbled by the outstanding support of all of the sponsors. Everyone we talked to was so welcoming to helping raise awareness. So much so, we raised more than $15,000 for local organizations in the Winston-Salem community and organizations across the United States. The national organizations include The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and love heals, a nonprofit organization that offers compassionate comfort for those affected by suicide or mental health illness and pain,” Abbie commented.
Whether you are a teenager or an adult, there is often a negative stigma associated with the topic of mental health, but especially for teens. People will say, “what do you have to be depressed about at your age?” or “stop thinking negatively…snap out of it!” These views by others prevent adolescents from coming forward to their family, friends or medical health professionals to seek the help they need.
“This first Stroll Into Light, we really didn’t know what to expect. We had about 300 gather, carrying a candle, walking side by side, in the spirit of hope, to honor a friend or a family member lost to mental illness. It was a time of reflection on lives that were lost and a promise to help others dealing with mental health issues. I really hope that in the years to come, Stroll Into Light will grow in size, continuing to raise awareness for teen mental health and that it will become part of other communities,” stated Abbie.
For more information, drone footage and pictures from Stroll Into Light, please visit Abbie’s personal Instagram @abbie.merhoff.