Mental Health Awareness for Youth

Twenty percent of adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder and suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people in the US ages 15-24. It is more important than ever to raise awareness of mental health issues. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, read on to find out how to raise awareness in yourself, with your friends, and in your community.  

Examine your own biases about mental health 

Because of the way mental health is portrayed in media, culturally, or even within your own families and friend groups, you may have some biases about what it means to have a mental health issue, or what it looks like to have one. 

What comes to your mind when you think of mental health issues? Does it feel like it says something about a person, like they aren’t trying hard enough? When you think of someone with certain disorders, like schizophrenia, what kind of person comes to mind? Try to spend some time this month to reflect on what you assume about mental health. 

Don’t use social media as your primary source of mental health information 

It’s easy for mental health myths to spread on social media platforms, going viral because their “facts” are shocking and are combined with good graphics or funny videos. Always try to double-check information being spread on social media apps. 

Social media can also be harmful because there can be a lot of “echo chamber” situations, where one person talks about a bad experience and everyone in the comments agrees. This can make an anecdote seem like fact when the conversation is really one-sided. Just be aware you may not be getting the full picture, and that people like to commiserate together. 

Know the difference between a helpful or harmful portrayal of mental health in media 

There are lots of portrayals of mental health issues in movies, tv shows, books, and articles. Some are more accurate, and some are way wrong and potentially damaging. The Netflix show 13 Reasons Why (article contains no triggering details) came under a lot of fire from mental health advocates for its negative and triggering portrayal of suicide. On the other hand, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was a helpful portrayal of a character with borderline personality disorder seeking help and diagnosis. If you are unsure, look for expert opinions on certain pieces of media. 

Know how to recognize mental health symptoms in yourself 

Many people have set ideas about what mental health looks like from media or what they have heard and are quick to dismiss their own experiences. Everyone feels anxiety, rage, grief, and sadness at some point in their lives. However, if you notice that your life is starting to become impacted by emotions or thoughts for a significant period of time, think about seeking help with your mental health. 

It can be helpful to look up symptoms of disorders like anxiety and depression if you are concerned about your own mental health. While it can be more helpful to get an expert opinion, self-diagnosis is not inherently invalid. There are lots of reasons why you may not have access to getting diagnosed, but that does not mean you don’t have a diagnosable condition. Also remember that diagnoses are just names for lists of symptoms, and those lists have changed in the past and will change in the future. 

Address mental health jokes with your friends 

These kinds of jokes perpetuate mental health myths, create more stigma, and may even be a sign that your friends need help and support. Addressing this can be scary and awkward but it is very important if the goal is to reduce stigma and raise awareness. 

A good way to address this is to set boundaries with your friends. This can look like saying “I don’t think that was funny. If you keep making those jokes, I will have to leave,” and then actually leaving the situation if they continue. This shows that you take mental health issues seriously and demonstrates that you are a safe person to approach if a friend needs help. If a friend is making lots of suicide jokes, it may be a good idea to pull them aside and ask them directly if they are considering killing themselves. Asking directly about suicide reduces the stigma, even if they are not actually considering it. 

You may get some responses like “it was just a joke,” or “lighten up.” This can make you feel embarrassed or like it’s not worth it. However, consider that you might have a friend suffering in silence, too scared to talk to anyone because all their friends make jokes about mental illness. It may save their life to hear one person have the courage to go against the group and show that mental illness is a serious topic. If you knew the joke would hurt someone you cared about, would you still choose to say nothing? 

Know the signs for suicide in teens and young adults 

When you know what to look out for, you can better help your friends that may be struggling by reaching out and asking them directly about suicide. This can be a lifeline and helps reduce the stigma around suicide. Wanting to kill yourself is not an unnatural thought; it’s a way to cope when dealing with incredible mental and psychic pain. We can’t judge those who feel this way, as we all have different life experiences and coping abilities. Read more about how to prevent suicide in your friend group and community. 

Become a mental health advocate in your community 

You don’t have to have fancy training to be a mental health advocate. You can make a difference by educating yourself, your friends, and your family about mental health issues. Take the time to research topics that affect your peers- like mental health and social media use, or how to deal with the stress and pressure of school in a changing society. 

If you are interested in becoming more involved, there are community programs that you can join to become a better mental health advocate: 

Join Health Ambassador Program – Youth 

This program seeks to educate youth ages 16-24 on common challenges to mental wellness. The youth then become advocates for raising awareness around mental health in their communities by sharing information or participating in outreach events. 

Become a Peer Counselor with 

Peer counselors learn all about mental health topics, suicide prevention, and crisis de-escalation in our volunteering training program. They then put that knowledge to use when talking to people through our peer-supported teen crisis chat. Find out how to become a volunteer peer counselor. Must be between the ages of 14-17.

Ask your school or organization for mental health education presentations 

Speak up and ask for more education on mental health in your schools, faith organizations, or groups like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. You have the power of your voice to ask for more education and more information on topics that affect you and your peers. It might be more impactful if you have your friends speak up with you. 

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