This post is part of a partnership with Elijah Lee, a teen community activist and public speaker, for his insight on the state of youth mental health and mental health care.
For years, young people across our nation have wrestled with their mental health. We face pressures from schools to get the best grades, get the highest scores on standardized testing, and constantly be the best student possible. The second we turn on the news, we see acts of violence and outrage. We look to social media in the hopes of relaxing and escaping, only to see perfect people with perfect bodies and these perfect lives. Members of marginalized communities continue to feel attacked and alone as they live their lives, while young men face unattainable expectations for what it means to truly be a man.
Factors contributing to declining mental health have only gotten worse with the pandemic. Schools and public spaces shut down, forcing us to stay home and depriving us of necessary social interaction. We watched as our loved ones passed away, with many of us never receiving the closure we needed to process that grief. We continue to see economic struggles, often leading to family dysfunction and interruption to one of the only things we can still find safety in. Through all of this, we are still expected to move through life with a smile on our faces, without mentioning the reality of our feelings. We are expected to wake up every day and simply “be a kid”. We don’t talk about it. We don’t acknowledge it. We bury it in the closet. But, it still exists.
Due to all of this, many young people will find whatever they can to ease the pain. Sometimes this takes the form of painkillers, only for our children to become addicted and join the thousands of young people who have been lost due to an overdose. Some resort to self-harm and ultimately suicide, as they feel they will never be enough. Some simply bury their feelings, build unbreakable walls, and prepare themselves for a lifetime of pain.
This is the reality of thousands of young people across America and our world. While heartbreaking, this is what our children are going through. I would know, because I am one of them. I am one of the millions of young people who have felt the effects of stress and anxiety at the ripe age of 15. Thankfully, I have a mother who had conversations about mental health and was there for us every step of the way. I had resources and knew organizations that could help me. I had access to therapy and was in an environment where I could attend regular sessions comfortably. However, this was made possible only because my community began to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health.
Growing up, many are taught to keep their feelings inside and to save their tears for their pillow. We are taught that everyone goes through sad times and to simply push through, however, these are more than sad times. Right now, we do not need pep talks, we need love. We do not need you to hope we figure it out, we need you to hold our hands and support us as we move through these challenging times. Today, I encourage you to sit down with the people around you, young and old, and begin having conversations about what it means to properly handle your mental health. Share your personal experiences, and when you are able to, seek the necessary help.
There has and never will be shame in facing hard times, but that is why it is necessary to have people that support you and uplift you because we are in this together. The pandemic made many of us feel alone. Whether it was in our own homes or in our community, it was easy to feel like you were the only person going through something. It was easy to forget that there were millions of people out there, just like you, who needed a little extra support. While we are still seeing some lasting effects of Covid-19, the era has ended. The time of us living separate lives has been replaced with the opportunity to move forward in unity. I, for one, think it is about time we start acting like it.
Throughout my time advocating for mental health services, I had the pleasure of coming across One Place, an organization dedicated to empowering their community by providing the necessary information and resources to get help. One Place knows that people will experience trying times and has joined hands with the community to confront this head-on. They share messages about the importance of mental health for both children and adults and provide resources and support. They offer programs and services to help build resilience throughout the community for everyone. They help ensure the community knows that there are people here to help them and lift them up, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or what they have been through. They ask, “What happened to you,” instead of “What’s wrong with you.” One Place also joins countless organizations working to increase protective factors for families, and improve mental health services and accessibility. Too often, months-long waitlists and expensive services are the reasons people cannot get the necessary assistance, and that is why we are so dedicated to advocating for services for everyone.
Mental health is hard. It is hard to manage and keep in check, especially on your own. It has always been difficult to feel like everything will be okay, however, I remain confident that when we all come together, it will be. However, the only way for us all to make it through is by normalizing these feelings. We have to continue having conversations about mental health and advocating for better services. No matter what, we do it together, empowering our children every step of the way.
Click here to learn more about One Place and our work surrounding child mental health.