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MARION — Ella Bartels, 18, is a leader in her school for mental health awareness.
Bartels, a graduating senior at Marion High School, is a member of Green Bandanna, a national student group that advocates for mental health awareness and named for the bandannas tied to their backpacks.
Over 80 students at Marion High are a part of the Green Bandana chapter, receiving an hour of training in suicide prevention and acting as liaisons between a student who is struggling with mental health and a trusted adult.
“Students recognize that and everyone in the building knows what that means,” said Michelle Wilson, a social worker for the Marion Independent School District. “They’re a safe person to talk to if you’re feeling kind of down. It’s pretty amazing to look down the halls of Marion High and see the green bandannas on the backpacks.”
Bartels joined Green Bandana because of her own family struggles with mental health.
“I feel like there’s a lot more depression and anxiety nowadays with teenagers,” Bartels said. “It’s become a lot more prevalent, and it’s important to bring light to that and let everyone know their feelings are valid.”
Bartels’ brother, Nick Wheeler, died by suicide in 2018 at 22 years old. Bartels was 14 at the time.
Bartels said she was really close to her brother, and he would often support her at her basketball games. They also enjoyed simple things together like going to the grocery store, she said.
Bartels is one of 154 students in the Class of 2022 graduating Sunday from Marion High School at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
Wilson, who knows Bartels from working with her in Green Bandanna, said Bartels is a “quiet leader.”
“She’s always positive. I don’t know how in the world she has done that,” Wilson said.
During Bartels’ junior year of high school, she noticed she had swollen lymph nodes and cold symptoms. In June 2021, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and started chemotherapy.
“It was hard to go back to school,” said Bartels, who spent the first quarter of her senior year in virtual learning. “I was embarrassed because of my hair. I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was sick.”
Bartels, who has been a member of the track and cross-country teams, said the support of her friends there was a “huge support.”
When she could run, her cross-country teammates would run with her and slow down for her. They helped her take her mind off things, Bartels said.
Bartel finished chemotherapy in August 2021 and is in full remission. The experience solidified her decision to study nursing at Kirkwood Community College, she said. She was also inspired by her grandmother, who is a nurse.
Amy Bartels, Ella Bartels mother, said what she most admires about her daughter is her resilience.
“When she does something, she does it 110 percent,” Amy Bartels said.
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