Student-led mental health rally draws crowd in downtown Annapolis

The Severna Park High School students behind “Our Minds Matter,” a countywide call to address increasing rates of mental illness in young people, said they’re just getting started.

Motivated by a student death and what they say is underinvestment in mental health services, Parker Cross, Sabina Khan, Megan Mousdale, Lauren Carlson and Katrina Schultz have spent the past month organizing a movement.


The group hosted a rally Saturday at City Dock, the final in a series of three events designed to raise awareness about mental illness. The girls have also led a march outside Severna Park High School and invited their peers to ask members of the Board of Education to refine the way it responds to crises in schools.

Carlson, 17, is an “Our Minds Matter” co-founder. She’s critical of County Executive Steuart Pittman’s fiscal 2020 budget that includes a request for 26 counselors, psychologists and social worker positions.


“We want more funding. We know they’re trying, but at the same time, we also need more,” Carlson said. “We’re going to keep going to Board of Education meetings and County Council meetings until we get what we want.”

The rally attracted a few dozen parents, students and community members. As locals perched on boats and ate lunch in the sun, students described their experiences with depression, eating disorder and suicidal ideation.

Mallory Snodgrass, a junior at Broadneck High School, described the anorexia she suffered from in middle school as a “toxic friend.”

Megan Peters, who graduated from Severna Park last year, said she’s seen her sister, and friends, struggle with academic pressure at the high school. She’s also dealt with it firsthand. Students say the school breeds a culture of hyper-competition.

“I wish there was less stigma around going to the guidance counselor. It feels like we’re not supposed to be there,” Peters, 19, said.

Parents and students cited research that suggests worsening rates of anxiety and depression among youth people. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between 10 and 24 years old, according to data from Anne Arundel County health officials.

At least two students have died from suicide in Anne Arundel County since the beginning of 2019.

And, sharp disparities exist between white students and kids of color, said Nia Jones, from Baltimore-based Black Mental Health Alliance.


“It’s a quiet challenge, being black and being in America. You have to work twice as hard to be half as good,” Jones said.

She explained adverse childhood experiences — like poverty or having an incarcerated parent — is more likely to affect black kids.

“It increases your chances of being depressed, feeling angry, feeling anxious,” she said.

Organizer Sabina Khan, 16, said she hopes “Our Minds Matter” sends a message to county officials and state lawmakers. As the rally ended, she helped herd supporters to the House of Delegates for a “Talk Saves Lives” workshop, sponsored by the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

“I think this will help (lawmakers) realize the community is rallying behind us,” Sabina said.

The message has been received, said Dana Schallheim, who represents District 5 on the Anne Arundel County school board. Her district includes Severna Park High School.


“I think our youth are amazing, courageous and brave,” said Schallheim, who has been a vocal supporter of increasing the number of mental health staff in county schools. “We need to be bold in our ask for what we need in terms of mental health services and early intervention.”

Del. Heather Bagnall, District 33, said she’s working with the Our Minds Matter girls to investigate a Severna Park policy that requires students to obtain written permission from their parents to see the school’s psychologist more than once.

Students say it discourages young people from seeking help, especially those who have strained relationships with their parents.

“We want to take down any barriers that prevent care so we don’t have to get to crisis situations,” Bagnall said.

For many at the rally, the issue of mental health is a personal one. Ethan Brennan, 22, struggled with self-harm as a student at Severna Park.

His mom, Ann Brennan, started Burgers & Bands for Suicide Prevention, shortly after he graduated. The organization will host its third-annual charity concert Sunday at the Severna Park Taphouse from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.


Since its inception, the organization has raised $113,000 for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, as well as local initiatives to raise awareness about mental illness.

“There’s been a huge uproar in the community of wanting to talk about (mental health),” Ethan said. “It’s gained momentum.”

Tickets to Burgers & Bands can be found here.