Anchorage high schoolers share stories advocating for mental health awareness

 Natalie Fraser, left, and Keegan Blain talk about MHATS on April 14.
Natalie Fraser, left, and Keegan Blain talk about MHATS on April 14. (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 14, 2019 at 9:12 PM AKDT
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Shining a light on the hardships of mental health through storytelling -- that's the goal of a group of Anchorage high school students.

Natalie Frasier, 17, is a junior at West Anchorage High School. She said she felt that mental health was being stigmatized at her school, or simply not being discussed at all. She set out to create a peer network with an open culture around sharing personal stories of mental health issues.

That’s when she started MHATS, or Mental Health Advocacy Through Storytelling.

"MHATS for me, personally, came from a lot of my struggles with mental illness," Fraser said.

MHATS is eight members strong, consisting of young adults from several different high schools. They’ve been meeting once every two weeks since Oct. 2018 to share their personal struggles with mental health.

“There's this really amazing, powerful thing of storytelling, because you can empathize with the person on-stage," Fraser said.

Fraser and her friend Keegan Blain, a senior at Dimond High School, are bringing younger generations into the dialogue around mental health issues affecting Alaska.

"Alaska experiences one of the highest suicide rates in the United States,” Blain said. “We have substance abuse rates that are through the roof."

These young mental health advocates will host their first event, sharing their stories with a larger community for the first time this coming Friday.

"I hope the people in that room take it to heart and are affected and think about what they heard," Fraser said.

Keegan said she’s nervous about opening up to a roomful of adults and peers, but she believes it will make a difference.

“So that we can stop these things before they start, before they metastasize in our community,” Blain said.

The MHATS Storytelling Show is Friday, April 19, at 6 p.m. at the Church of Love on Spenard. Fraser said they hope that more than 100 community members will turn out to hear their stories.