by Kelly Davis, Director of Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services at Mental Health America
New research from Pew Research Center confirmed what many have known: young people are struggling and see mental health as a challenge. Seventy percent of the teens surveyed reported that depression and anxiety were major issues among their peers.
To improve the wellbeing of young people, there are certainly broader issues that need to be addressed - like making sure mental health services are covered at parity with physical health services. There are also issues like poverty, housing and food insecurity, violence, and discrimination based on race, gender identity, and sexuality. But, as noted in Pew’s report, high concerns about depression and anxiety cut across all demographics.
We can and must do more to support youth. And, if we are going to do this, young people need to be part of the solutions. They are growing up in a very different world than generations before and are most familiar with the wants and needs of their peers.
If we build things young people don’t want or in ways that aren’t appealing or engaging, we can’t be surprised if there is limited impact.
If we don’t include young people in developing solutions that meet their needs, we can’t act surprised when their needs aren’t met.
If we want to figure out how to improve mental health and address serious concerns like the shortage of behavioral health providers, we need creative solutions designed for and by the communities they are intended to serve, including youth.
Other industries value the consumer voice in decision-making. Groups do not create products without input from their target audiences, and it’s now easier than ever for leaders to collect this feedback using technology and community outreach. One example of how MHA has leveraged our reach and promoted the work of young people is through our Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council (CMHIC). CMHIC highlights the ideas and programs of students who are filling gaps in traditional services, from peer support programs to tech-based interventions to disability supports.
Part of what has been most powerful about working with college students and other young people is discovering new possibilities as many are not satisfied with the idea that this is “just how things are done.” They’re hungry to change the world, support their peers, and come up with new answers.
To truly support young people and create a healthier world, we need to be committed to not only listening but also sharing power and resources. Reach out to young people, take their ideas seriously, and support them with more than your words. Their solutions for their peers may end up helping everyone.