School, extracurricular activities and growing up can all be stressful situations for Bridgeport High School students, but a group of students has come up with ways to help others cope.

Under the advisement of teacher Trina Runner and school counselor Kristina Robinson, DECA students have expanded the high school’s Life League Suicide Prevention Program to work collaboratively Wednesday evenings with United Summit Center in an initiative they appropriately refer to as VENT.

Bridgeport High School sophomores Molly Runner, Dakota Swiger and Corinne Lalama brainstormed VENT during the summer.

“As we got into high school, we saw that more kids in our grade were suffering from more anxiety and depression, and we wanted to help make a group of people who understand with a person that could relate,” Swiger said.

Trina Runner, Molly’s mother, said the three students are also part of the Dream TEAM (Teens Encouraging Advocacy and Motivation), which is the Harrison County community chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving. The three were trained for peer support and will take the Life League to DECA’s state competition March 10-11 in Charleston.

“Last year, Alden Smith competed with DECA with the Life League project. This year, those three students and Madelyn Lalama will all compete about suicide prevention,” Trina Runner said. “We’re a teen support group that’s free and confidential. Every Wednesday during first lunch, we have Life League at the school.”

“We have VENT from 4-5:30 p.m. at United Summit Center, but both have the same mission for better mental health.”

The first student suicide prevention training was in November 2017. The November and February 2018 training taught more than 100 students and more than 60 community adults.

Robinson, a Bridgeport High School counselor for nine years, said Life League has led to more student referrals to her office throughout the school day.

“There’s such an innate desire to excel academically and a lot of times that pressure is self-imposed. The students want to achieve high academic marks while balancing extracurricular involvement,” Robinson said. “I think they’re learning wonderful coping skills and can be a sounding board for students who are maybe in a similar situation.”

“I think they’re helping tremendously at the school level.”

Each week, high school students have access to free, confidential mental health services through interactive group meetings with Marissa Shanholtz, a United Summit Center crisis worker.

“She’s wonderful with teenagers,” Trina Runner said. “She can really help them with a lot of self-care things so that they don’t take the emotional brunt of everything and not know what to do with it.”

Shanholtz said her age, 25, helps her build rapport with students without them feel ashamed or embarrassed.

“We have a really core group of 10 people depending on what’s going on in their lives,” she said. “This isn’t just a place where we have to come and talk about our depression or anxiety; it’s just a safe place where they can come and talk about whatever’s bothering them.”

“They’re confidentiality is going to be respected and their opinions are going to be respected.”

Swiger, who knows of students who have committed suicide and said it reminds her of the gravity of the issue, has learned so far about self-care and how to talk with other students about what and what not to say to those with anxiety and depression.

“Some days people just want to get things off their chest. Some people just have bad days sometimes and just want to vent,” Molly Runner said. “It’s important to make sure that you’re OK before you start taking care of others.”

“No matter if there’s a diagnosis or not, school stresses us out. To be able to learn how to get through a rough time is good as well as to learn those things to be able to help others who might not be as comfortable going to VENT.”

It has been easier for Swiger to organize and prioritize honors courses as well as for Molly Runner to manage and control her depression.

The group has addressed gender issues, addiction, self-harm and family dynamics. Life League participants address different topics each Wednesday as well.

Harrison County schools all learn about suicide prevention, but Trina Runner said this Bridgeport High School team and United Summit Center collaboration is the only student support network.

“Anything at all that bears on teenagers, we wanted to be able to give them the resources to be resilient and helpful and bounce back,” Trina Runner said. “Just because we’ve gotten the conversation started, some kids may not attend either meeting but they feel more comfortable coming to us and talking about stuff.”

“We want to normalize the conversation.”

March’s competition will include the trio of students presenting about the project and upcoming goals to make it a community. A first or second-place finish would qualify the team for the national competition April 26-May 1 in Orlando, Florida.

The group is hoping to eventually work with area agencies to host a mental health fair during Mental Health Month in May, create a mental health library at Bridgeport High School and sew a quote quilt with inspiring messages for students. A grant was also received from the Sacred Heart Children’s Center that enables Life League or VENT participants to use journals.


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