As we observe Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10, let’s focus our attention on the mental wellbeing of our youth. Our mental health affects so many areas of our lives, including how we feel about ourselves, experience the world, build relationships, perform at school or work, and much more. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the proportion of high school students who report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness has increased by 40% since 2009 and disproportionally affects people of color and LGBTQ+ youth. While we’ve come a long way in reducing the stigma of mental health, there is still more to do. Nurturing the mental health of our youth is a responsibility we all share.
As a teen, I struggled with my mental health. I faced severe bouts of depression, engaged in self-harm, had suicidal ideation, had to learn how to manage ADHD—the works. Even now, I wish I could tell you some powerful story about overcoming it, but the truth is I continue to struggle with it every single day. Here’s what I can tell you: I used to feel sad about feeling sad (meta-sad, I call it). Now, I welcome it and I’m grateful to be able to experience the breadth of human emotion. It doesn’t mean it’s not hard, but at least I can see some beauty in it now. In my teenage years, allowing myself to lean on the people closest to me was the single most valuable thing I could have done for myself.
Whether you are a parent, educator, healthcare professional, sibling, or friend, your role is pivotal in supporting young people and their mental wellbeing. Here are just a few ways you can help:
- Create safe emotional spaces in schools, homes, and communities that are free of judgment
- Address the social and economic barriers that contribute to poor mental health
- Increase awareness about mental health resources and tools in your community
- Advocate for affordable and accessible mental health care
- Seek support from your friends and family and invest in those healthy relationships (even supporters need support sometimes!)
- Learn and practice techniques that work for you to manage stress and other difficult emotions
Studies show that adolescents who have low social support are over six times more likely to experience low mental wellbeing. I think it’s fair to say that we all know someone who is struggling with their mental health. Maybe a young person has confided in you, maybe you’ve noticed a change in their behavior, or maybe you have no idea who they are. It’s in those moments of vulnerability that we can truly make a difference in a young person’s life. Because there is no way to know who is battling with their mental health, I invite you to approach every situation and every individual with a compassionate curiosity. Listen to people with a genuine interest of what their world is like and seek understanding without judgment. And, most importantly, treat yourself with the same compassionate curiosity.
– Vanessa Tat, FACES Program Assistant
For more information, check out the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Youth Mental Health here.
Mental Health Resources
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (Text or call 988) – Connects individuals with crisis counselors for emotional support and other services via web chat or texting
- California Health & Human Services Agency – A list of hotlines available for youth, parents, friends, and family
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – Mental Health Guide for Youth
- Mental Health America – Free Mental Health Test Screenings (some available in Spanish too)
- Self-care check – a fun and interactive game that guides you through question that help you practice self-care