People who are removed by years or even decades from being teenagers themselves can too easily slip into a kind of sepia-toned dream world when thinking about that time of their lives, recalling only happy days and fun-filled nights.

We forget sometimes how difficult adolescence can be, with wrenching changes in both body and mind, the struggle for independence, the beginning of the lifelong search for identity.

The teen years are challenging for everyone, and they can be really hard for some. It can lead to stress and anxiety and sometimes even depression.

Two students at Catoctin High School in Thurmont who are concerned about a lack of awareness on the subject, even among their peers, have decided to do something about it.

Freshmen Lexi Flohr and Kristen Felichko, who seem wise beyond their years, decided to start the Mental Health Awareness Club at their school.

They told News-Post reporter Katryna Perera that many students at Catoctin High struggle with mental health issues but don’t talk about it. They wanted to start the club to raise awareness and reduce the stigma.

“We thought it would be nice if there was a group that didn’t provide a therapy but provided a service for people to talk about that stuff,” Felichko said.

Their group will attempt to break through the usual stereotypes that discourage people from seeking help for mental health issues.

Taylor Laumann, a senior at Catoctin High, was one of the first students to join.

“I joined because I feel like especially around here, we’re kind of in like a rural area and there is a lot of stigma,” Laumann told our reporter. “Because we’re up in the mountains, there are a lot of people with old-fashioned values ... and because of that it’s really hard for people to talk about anything.”

Sam Wilt, a social worker for Catoctin High, is the new club’s adviser. When she started working at the school in September, she told our reporter she was surprised to see how extensive the mental health issues are.

Beyond community acknowledgment and acceptance, the Thurmont community does not have the mental health resources available to people living closer to the city of Frederick.

“We have these really great substance abuse groups downtown in Frederick a half-hour away. ... When there’s poverty and families don’t have transportation, they don’t have health insurance, they don’t have all of these resources ... it’s not going to happen,” Wilt said.

The National Institute of Mental Health reported in 2018 that more than 60 percent of rural Americans live in mental health professional shortage areas.

More than 90 percent of all psychologists and psychiatrists work exclusively in metropolitan areas, NIMH said. For most rural Americans, it said, the mental health responder in their community is a law enforcement officer.

The county Board of Education has consistently ranked mental health issues as a high priority, and many candidates for student member of the board ran on the platform of increasing mental health resources for students this year.

It is all the more remarkable that these two young women have taken it upon themselves to extend a hand of friendship and help to their classmates who may be struggling. It shows a level of maturity and resourcefulness that is rare among adults, much less among teenagers.

We commend them for it and wish them success. It would be good to see such a club in every one of the county’s high schools.

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