Mental Health Awareness Month: How to Support Young People

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It’s Mental Health Awareness Month and we have work to do. 

1 in 5 youth have or will experience mental illness in their lifetimes, according to the CDC.

Since 2022, FUTURES has partnered with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Founding Investor Harry’s on Team: Changing Minds. The idea is to educate more trusted adults to recognize the signs if a young person is suffering from mental health challenges and connect them to support.

Together, we connected more than 900,000 young people to adult mentors and coaches to respond to mental health needs. These are trusted peers and adults in young people’s lives who are engaged in pastimes youth love (like video games, mentoring, and sports) – ensuring that there is help for a young person facing mental health challenges.

You can become a responder, too, by taking the Team: Changing Mind’s 45-minute online course to learn how to identify, understand, and respond to youth mental health challenges. 

For Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to share with you what we’ve learned in the past two years about youth and mental health.

It can take years for youth to get mental health support. 

  • Teens rarely come to us for support. While half of mental health challenges show up by age 14, it takes another 10+ years for most people to access help (NAMI). For male-identified youth, it often takes even longer… if help comes at all.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia create additional barriers to accessing care.

  • Beyond the direct impact of discrimination, bullying, and violence, these forces create systemic barriers to care.
  • Black and Latinx youth were nearly 14% less likely than white youth to receive treatment for depression, although they were just as likely to have a major depressive episode. (SAMHSA)
  • 60% of LGBTQ+ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it. (Trevor Project)

We must address the crisis of connection, online and IRL. 

  • The age of social media and the wake of Covid have taken their toll. One study showed that 65% of men aged 18 to 23 feel that “no one really knows [them] well.”
  • The same study saw nearly half of men (48%) respond that their online lives are more engaging and rewarding than their offline lives. 

But there’s hope: Anyone can support youth mental wellbeing through simple, everyday actions.

Checking in with and affirming youth makes all the difference. Research shows that young people are much more likely to get help when someone they know and trust reaches out. Consistent adult support buffers against substance use, mental health challenges and suicidality. 

Further, LGBTQ+ youth who had access to spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide than those who did not, according to the Trevor Project.

Here’s a four-step plan you can use right away to support a young person experiencing mental health challenges:

  1. Ask Questions—Don’t be afraid to ask simple questions that show concern. If there are specific changes you’ve noticed, mention them. This can be as simple as “You’ve been less talkative lately, is there anything you’d like to talk about?”
  2. Listen—to understand, not to respond, and with empathy. If you’ve shown the young people in your life that you are someone they can talk to, someone that really hears them, they may be more likely to talk to you when they are having a rough time.
  3. Ask for Help—You’re a mentor, not a therapist, and you aren’t expected to have all the answers. Lean on experts (such as school counselors, your child’s pediatrician) and brainstorm others you can call in to help be a part of the support team. You’re an important piece of this puzzle, but you never have to do this alone.
  4. If you or someone you know needs help, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by just dialing 988.

If you want to learn more, take the Team: Changing Mind’s 45-minute online course. And for more training, our partners at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing provide Mental Health First Aid certification through single-day courses. 

We can be part of the solution to addressing youth mental health. What are we waiting for?