Anxiety and depression have been frequent conflicts for high school students. Look past the nationwide news and memorials miles away. Sitting around the corner is a principal bearing the heavy weight of sending thousands of emails to families, informing their children they have a friend who will no longer join them at school. Suddenly, concern for mental health spikes after the repercussions have taken their toll; it has already stripped Broadneck of two young scholars.
Will Kohn, 17, took his life in May, only eight months after the death of freshman Noah Anderson. Both students are remembered as kind and ambitious teenagers, now reduced to a statistic. Their unfortunate passing was the catalyst to the @happytogethermd Instagram project.
Mara Buto, a rising senior, attended the memorials of Noah and Will. It wasn’t much later that she recognized she could no longer be a bystander. For a summer quarantine project, Mara organized the Happy Together MD Instagram account to spread awareness about the importance of addressing mental health. The social media undertaking had been created to distribute free, handmade yellow bracelets to represent solidarity in the community. Her vibrant accessories serve as a reminder of hope and friendship, made during a time where isolation and depression have overwhelmed many students at home.
“I’ve always wanted to talk about mental health and do my part to help others. I didn’t know when was the right time or what was the right way to do it,” she explained. “Will was when I figured I need to do something now. He had such an amazing personality. He was easily one of my favorite people.”
Having dealt with her own mental health battles, Mara was determined to break the stigma on depression, anxiety and suicide among teens. Depression had played a significant role in her life, as early as her middle school years. The support she gained from family and friends allowed her to push through the headspace she once endured.
“At one point or another I was in the same place as Noah and Will. That’s why this project hits so close to home,” Mara confessed. “I wanna help people get out of that state, so that hopefully none of us will have to go to another memorial again.”
The bracelets are meant to radiate a sign of unity throughout the Broadneck peninsula and further. Mara has received orders for over 1,000 bracelets, with demands from supporters nationwide. Mara’s mother and friends Grace Slavin, Isa Garcia and Riley Finazzo assisted with the plenitude of orders. Recipients residing in Arnold and Severna Park receive their armlets hand delivered, whereas out-of-state patrons obtain orders from the mail.
“People can wear them all the time,” Mara said. “They’re cute, they’re fashionable. I figured it’s something everyone could get behind.”
A school flooded with bright yellow would convey the message of friendship and unification. In the hopes of spreading awareness around the severity of mental health among teenagers, the @happytogethermd project wishes to stimulate a conversation between struggling students and their loved ones.
“It’s a topic everybody struggles with even if they’re not open to admit it or talk about it,” Mara said. “All of my friends have struggled with it, and I think it's important to show that it’s not always just happy times.”
The young mental health advocate believes that by spreading awareness for suicide prevention, schools will be able to execute plans with suffering students in mind. She feels counselors are a necessity, if equipped with the education to aid students pertaining to topics beyond grades.
“We need to do better,” Mara said. “It would benefit the community by hiring not just a counselor to help with classes and rescheduling, but a mental health expert that you could visit during Bruin Blocks, before school, after school, to set up appointments.”
Mara recommends the novel “Good Reasons for Bad Feelings” by Randolph M. Nesse for those who have trouble coping with negative emotions.
“It describes how people don't take mental health as seriously because there’s no source, as in my arm is broken, my arm is the problem, let’s fix my arm,” Mara said. “If I'm depressed, there could be many different triggers or many different issues going on without a clear solution and that’s why I think people still are struggling to get the help that they need.
“People still refuse to acknowledge the major impact it has on teenagers because the effects aren't visible.”
Mara is currently stepping back from the project to focus on her own mental health, though she plans to continue with her project. To order one of her handmade bracelets in the future, contact the @happytogethermd Instagram page or her email at email@example.com.