Group of teens in Northville hold color run for mental health awareness

Group believes depression, anxiety should be talked about

NORTHVILLE, Mich. – Annie Heitmeier was a sophomore when she came up with a way for her peers to share how they were feeling. 

"I noticed people were struggling with depression, were struggling with anxiety, were having these thoughts of alone and being alone. And so I kind of started it based on that reason, because I wanted to make a change in our school," Heitmeier said. 

The Northville High School student founded Color My World, a club giving a safe and welcoming environment for students to gather, and create positive messages in the school fostering understanding about depression, anxiety and  suicide prevention. She no longer wants these issues to be taboo topics. 

"I wanted to do something meaningful to try and help my fellow students," explained Heitmeier, Color My World president and founder. "Being a teen in 2018 brings different stresses, fears and struggles that can be really hard to work through. This club offers a space where teens can share their feelings, know they aren't alone and can work together to make a positive impact on the lives of others."

Jahnavi Rajagopal is one of the club's vice presidents. She thinks teens being able to speak with peers who can relate with and connect with them helps to get the issues out. She remembers struggling in 8th and 9th grade.

"I felt like I was struggling with some things on my own and I didn't feel like I have a place to come and talk about it. I didn't have people to really talk to because I didn't want to talk about it with my parents or family. I didn't really want to talk about it with the counselors or teachers, because I just didn't feel comfortable. And I tried to maybe just let it sit, maybe hopefully it will go away if I just try and not think about it, don't talk about it with anyone and that did not help," Rajagopal said. 

The club is in its second year at the school. Heitmeier said the club has discussions and seminars where they talk about their feelings. She says they also talk about some other ways to deal with preventing suicide. 

"Teens are also struggling a lot, and that often goes unnoticed or unsaid. You're just a child, what do you have to worry about? And school gets really stressful, especially with the amount of pressure in today's age with social media and the amount of extracurriculars. And going into college we have this huge pressure to figure out what you're doing with your life already," said Sarah Mathew, a vice president of Color My World. 

Tony Koski, principal at Northville High School, says the Color My World Club concentrates on social and emotional wellbeing. 

"When we talk about a broken leg or broken arm, people understand that a little bit more than when we talk about mental health whether it's depression or whether it's suicide, suicidal thoughts. You know, it's very important to have that open dialogue and this club helps that," Koski said. 

For any students struggling, this club wants them to know they are not alone. 

"There's many other people who are dealing with some of the same things as you, and it's important to reach out. It's important to reach out and ask for help and to be vulnerable because I think the only thing wrong with mental illness is the stigmas that we attach to it," Heitmeier said. 

Color My World organized a Color Run 5K Fun Walk in September to bring students and the community together in a fun event and to raise awareness about suicide prevention.

The club spent months and months organizing and planning the event. The run grossed $10,300 and that money will be used to bring peer-to-peer mental health outreach activities to the school.

"I've learned that sometimes, people talk about great ideas, but sometimes never really follow through," explained Rajagopal. "To actually come together -- as a club, a school, a community and actually manage a huge event like this…it's really amazing. Even if we help just one person, it's worth it because we want to make a positive change in our community, come together and celebrate life. We're growing as a club and doing things that are brightening people's days and I think that's a really lovely thing."  

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