Youth Engagement in Mental Health

Mental health includes the ways young people feel, think, their moods and behavior, and the ways youth interact with other people. Its important for our stress, how we treat other people, and the choices we make. It can be driven and affected by a lot of things, like our genes and brains, our life experiences and our family’s history.

Young people are purposefully engaging with the topic of mental health like never before. While many adults focus on ways youth mental health as it affects them—like academic achievement, violence prevention and substance use—many youth are striving to create create safe and respectful climates that affect everyone. That means they are working in their own homes, throughout their schools, across their communities and beyond to ensure their own mental health is successful, and that their peers, parents, siblings and others to experience positive mental health, too.

Ways Youth Engagement with Mental Health Happens

Teaching—Facilitating learning with their peers, younger people and adults about mental health can be a powerful way for youth to engage with mental health. Youth can teach about a lot of issues, including how to “develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”*

Advocacy—Young people can be advocates, activists and organizers for mental health who challenge individuals, organizations, communities and systems to become more supportive of mental health. In addition to encouraging positive behavior, youth advocates can co-create systems for mental health; lobby for safe and supportive mental health environments, and; demand justice in inequitable mental health settings.

Youth/Adult Partnerships—Relationships with equitable, sustainable power between young people and supportive adults are called Youth/Adult Partnerships. These relationships allow youth to successfully cope with stresses; work productively; make meaningful contributions to their communities, and; realize their potential in various ways.

Needs for Youth Engagement with Mental Health

Education—Social/Emotional Learning or SEL is a way for youth to learn about what makes for positive mental health. It builds the knowledge, skills and abilities young people need within themselves in order to be successful throughout their lives as youth and beyond. SEL is formal and informal, in the community and at school, and much more.

Opportunities—After the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for adults who support young people to create meaningful and sustained opportunities for youth to engage with mental health. While the challenge of living through the pandemic has affected everyone, young people have been more deeply impacted than other age groups.

Tools—Providing substantial tools to young people and helping them understand how to use them is a key for youth engagement in mental health. These can include social media tools and much more, as well as the funding needed to conduct their own advocacy, education and other outreach.

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