“Youth have ideas that can transform the system to serve all and not just some.”
Juan Acosta, Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council member and 2023 Policy Institute speaker
When the current mental health crisis feels insurmountable, I look to the Next Generation – the emerging activists and visionaries speaking up about their lived experiences and speaking out about the transformation they envision.
Every day, 20,000 people visit Mental Health America’s free and anonymous National Prevention and Screening platform. About three quarters of them are under age 25. We hear countless stories from individuals, parents, peers, friends, loved ones, and educators, and young people about the distress and despair they are facing, and the life circumstances which are contributing to their challenges.
Yet also every day we are witness to resilience, strength, and hope. We are committed to following these voices and stories – to understanding what helps, what harms, and what heals, and to ally ourselves with the youth leaders of tomorrow to build a future of mental health care to “serve all and not just some.”
According to our 2023 State of Mental Health in America Report, 1 in 10 youth or young people in the U.S. are currently experiencing depression that is severely impairing their ability to function at school or work, at home, with family, or in their social lives, and nearly 60% of young people with major depression report not receiving any mental health treatment. Additionally, our 2022 National Screening and Prevention data noted escalating rates of concern and risk among adults about ADHD. BIPOC and LGBTQ+ Screeners were at the greatest risk – scoring at higher rates than others on measures of depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
There are multiple factors involved in our current crisis: lack of access and affordability, a mental health workforce shortage, the effects of pandemic isolation and loneliness, social media dangers, systemic inequities and racism, which is particularly impacting our youngest populations.
If we are to keep pace with their needs, their demands, and their vision for the new future they want to see, we need to focus on what’s next – and what’s next is prevention. Prevention measures are essential to reduce the emergence of new mental health conditions, intervene early when they do emerge, and promote the recovery and resilience of those struggling, living with, and/or experiencing mental health and substance use conditions or crises.
Over the next two years, Mental Health America will continue to activate on our strategic plan, which is focused on the next generation of prevention (Next Gen Prevention). We are focused on the future – a focus that centers our attention on the health and well-being of future generations, amplifies the necessary systemic reforms to address equity, quality, and inclusion in mental health care, and embraces new insights and potential from the frontiers of science and technology. We are continuing to fight for and center the needs of people with lived experience through six horizon focus areas:
- Social Determinants of Mental Health | Next Gen Equity
- Next Gen Digital | Next Gen Innovation
- Spirituality | Next Gen Resilience
- Screening 2.0 | Next Gen Prevention
- Collective Impact | Next Gen Sustainability
- Substance Use | Next Gen Support
Across every focus area, Mental Health America is expanding and deepening our 114-year commitment to the overall mental health and well-being of the population with Next Gen Prevention. Through our programs and policy work, we are promoting public mental health literacy, which includes an understanding of the vital conditions necessary for basic safety and well-being, and highlighting the protective factors that reduce risk and promote overall health, mental fitness, and resilience. We are ensuring that the next wave of digital services centers lived experiences, prioritize an openness to new thinking, approaches, and partners, and we are advancing our own digital and screening supports to meet these standards and ambitions.
As we look to harness and deploy the protective factors that will increase the mental health of future generations and promote recovery for those in need, we will explore the role of spirituality as a population-scale driver of resilience and well-being. With most Americans saying some form of spirituality plays an important role in their lives, there is an ever-increasing bank of evidence that personal well-being is enhanced by mindfulness, spirituality, and social connectedness.
And we are further developing what we already know – expanding the deployment of Mental Health America’s National Prevention and Screening Program for individuals, schools, and other partners and advancing our Screening Program. We will continue supporting and enhancing the capacity and impact of our vibrant Affiliate Network and establish strategic partnerships to expand our national reach and impact. And we will ensure the integration of mental health conditions into all of our mental health work, giving equal weight to substance use and eating disorders, which often face a greater weight of stigma.
Our focus will come to life at Mental Health America’s Conference, Next Gen Prevention, which kicks off tomorrow, June 6, in Washington, D.C. and online. With breakout sessions like Supporting Youth Substance Use and Addiction Recovery from a Peer Perspective and Emerging Trends in the Development and Uptake of Digital Peer Support Technologies, the conference integrates our horizon areas and focuses our attention and conversation on our priorities.
Mental Health America’s Conference and strategic plan provide the frame, and together we commit to action. We are integrating Next Gen Prevention across our work in direct service, public education, research, advocacy, and public policy. By activating the preventive mental health measures in Next Gen Prevention, we look to make measurable progress across key indicators of mental health – reducing the percentage of all people, and especially young people, reporting psychological distress.
This is what’s next for Mental Health America, and I am eager to build and implement our Next Gen Prevention plan alongside you. If you are joining the conference, I’d love to meet you in person and hear how you’re already achieving what’s next. You can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and learn about other opportunities to get involved with Mental Health America.
Today, Mental Health America is activating our next plan for progress and pursuing our vision for a future of well-being and flourishing for all.