ALEXANDRIA, VA – A new report released today by Mental Health America (MHA) makes a compelling argument for leaders to immediately engage young people in discussions about resources and support young people need to take care of their mental health. The report, Young People’s Mental Health in 2020: Hope, Advocacy, and Action for the Future, is an urgent call to action for policymakers, clinicians, teachers, school administrators, healthcare systems and other leaders to address alarming trends in youth mental health, particularly as a result of the pandemic, with youth engagement.
“We need to be asking young people what works and build a mental health system that is designed by and for them—not the other way around,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA. “Young people need and want to have a voice in discussions about their mental health. If we can authentically engage them, we can create a more responsive and effective mental health support system that focuses on tools and resources that we know will work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns and closures have disrupted critical parts of young people’s lives like routines, peer relationships, hobbies and important milestones like proms or graduations. Data collected through MHA’s online screening tool MHAScreening.org indicates that in September 2020, more than half of 11- to 17-year-olds reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than half or nearly every day of the previous two weeks.
According to the report, leaders must build on what young people say helps them, provide mental health services and breaks as part of work or school, and provide mental health resources where young people spend their time. A survey conducted by MHA of more than 1,900 14- to 24-year-olds showed that:
- Access to mental health professionals and mental health breaks as part of work or school were the top resources young people requested to support their mental health.
- Only 24% of young people think training adults would help them with their mental health challenges versus 47% who want to learn more about how to help their own mental health.
- Nearly half (45%) of 14- to 18-year-olds are not hopeful about the future, and more than half of LGBTQ+ teens are not hopeful about the future.
- Only one in four young people think they can make a change in mental health in their communities.
- The top ways young people want support to make a difference include support for their own mental health, opportunities to learn about mental health, connection to a mental health advocacy community, and training to support their peers’ mental health.
The report highlights several programs around the country that are effectively supporting young people’s mental health, including Mental Health Kingdom, Mindful Minute by Mind Body Ambassadors, Uplift by Youth Era, DMV Students for Mental Health Reform and Young Invincibles Rocky Mountain.
“Our work represents a community of students who are tired of waiting for the people in power to make the changes they need,” said Ben Ballman, a high school student in Potomac, M.D. and founder of DMV Students for Mental Health Reform. “It represents a group of young people coming together and putting in the work to reform the world around them. That’s a powerful thing.”
The report highlights a clear theme: Schools need to invest in peer support systems and provide high-quality mental health education as part of young people’s daily learning environments. Leaders should also focus on digital resources and telehealth as part of a system of support. Resources must also be invested in young people’s mental health advocacy, as many are interested but unsure of how to make a change in their communities.
“We make a lot of the assumptions about what works but the data doesn’t reflect those assumptions,” said Kelly Davis, director of Peer Support at MHA and author of the report. “Lots of young people want to make a difference and need to feel empowered to make a difference in their community. They turn to their friends when they are struggling, and they want to help their friends. We need to equip young people with peer-led supports and resources that meet them where they are at.”
Disparities in mental health access, particularly for young people in the BIPOC community, those with a first language other than English, youth who are undocumented, those living in rural areas and LGBTQ+ youth are also impacted by disparities in mental health services. Mental health services offered in high school and college settings also vary drastically, according to MHA. Accommodations for mental health conditions also vary drastically, leaving some students with few options when faced with a mental health crisis.
If a young person is experiencing a mental health crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, text MHA to 741741, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room. Go to MHAnational.org to learn more.
Read the full report here.