What if a child had the language to describe her feelings in a way that lets the adults in her life know she needs help? What if her parents were not ashamed of her challenge and knew how to find support, knowing that their daughter would be cared for? What if her parents were also able to learn how to support her, and reinforce her efforts to advocate for her mental well-being? A world that conspires to support a young person’s mental health and well-being is possible. However, we’re not quite there yet.
In an ideal world, all of the places where young people live and play—for example school, church or care centers—should offer mental health supports and be safe spaces for conversations about mental well-being.
Unfortunately, there is still deep stigma around mental health and well-being. The lack of education, awareness, and language about mental health and well-being in turn makes it difficult for young people experiencing challenges to get care. Youth aged from 11 to 17 are being hit especially hard.
Young people have carried the burden of seeking help on their own, or resorted to “pushing through it” for far too long. Similarly, parents and caregivers have had to watch their children suffer without knowing how to help. Many times, the consequences are devastating. In order to change this sorry situation, everyone must start to imagine, and advocate for, a world beyond our current reality. One with accessible, comprehensive mental health supports for young people that sets them up for lifelong well-being.
Experts know that to achieve progress, it is important to set goals to ensure a path forward. In the case of youth mental health and well-being, focusing on systems of information dissemination, education, and health care are some places to start. This can seem too much to tackle, but by focusing on social emotional education and mental well-being awareness, young people, parents, and caregivers can have the basic knowledge necessary to understand the importance of remaining mentally and emotionally healthy, and be able to recognize early warning signs in themselves and others.
Some bold, but achievable ideas are being considered. For example:
- Mental well-being education should be offered through all early childhood education systems to ensure that all children regardless of background receive information. With this added foundational knowledge, mental illness can be reduced, and awareness of mental health will increase among our youngest people, including those living in low-income and underserved communities.
- Educational initiatives at the community level should be focused on exposing new parents and caregivers to skills that support the social and emotional development of their children and help them manage their own mental health. This way, young people would not have to carry the additional burden of educating the adults in their lives about what they are feeling or what they need. Children will be able to seek support from the people closest to them.
- Curating a nationwide awareness-building campaign to educate the general public on the difference between mental well-being and mental illness will aid in the reduction of stigma and misunderstanding related to mental health and well-being. To be sure, these efforts need to have sustainable, flexible funding.
For change to happen, these larger, systemic efforts must come from various directions, taking unique approaches to get to the same vision. This is where philanthropy can come in. Donors have an opportunity to lead the way toward better, equitable access to mental health care by partnering with other concerned stakeholders to focus on shared goals and include young people along the way.
To be sure, these efforts need to have sustainable, flexible funding. This is where philanthropy can come in. Donors have an opportunity to lead the way toward better, equitable access to mental health care by partnering with other concerned stakeholders to focus on shared goals and include young people along the way. For change to happen, these larger, systemic efforts must come from various directions, taking unique approaches to get to the same vision.
There is no one way to solve the youth mental health crisis nor can one person, or even a few people solve it. It will require collaborative efforts to reach successful, sustainable solutions to the various problems that exist in our social systems.
Visit the Milken Institute website to read the full report, Moonshots for Youth Mental Health and Well-Being.