Students celebrate progress in advocating for mental health

[6 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • High school students across the nation gathered virtually to celebrate their progress in advocating for mental health.

  • Work2BeWell students shared their initiatives that are making a difference in improving teen mental health.

  • Haley Hardcastle delivered a keynote speech that encourages students to balance their own mental wellness along with advocacy work.

On Feb. 26, 2022, teens from across the nation gave up sleeping in to attend the annual Virtual Teen Mental Health Summit. Theyre all part of our Work2BeWell initiative, a branch of Providence that exists to respond to the mental health crisis impacting students in the Pacific Northwest and across the nation. 

The summit was well attended by a passionate group of young people who are simultaneously prioritizing their own mental health while championing policies and social change that will improve the mental health of their peers. Before each student spoke, they shared how they personally work to be well,” with mental health-boosting activities such as taking walks, yoga, listening to music, or spending time with their dogs. 

While students drive the initiatives and focus of Work2BeWell, Providence professionals provide guidance and leadership.

Jawanza Hadley has been the director of Work2BeWell for nearly a year, and he provided a grounding principle at the beginning of the virtual event: 

Life is best lived inside-out. All too often in our society, there is an outside-in approach. Theres a focus on others, and theres blame, shame, and criticism about what mental health is,” Jawanza says. Living inside out means that we as individuals have the power to make decisions for ourselves to create our own mental wellness.”

The vision for Work2BeWell is that all teens would have better mental health support and emotional well-being. I am thankful for the opportunity and really proud of the work this team has done.”

And the work the Work2BeWell team has done is staggering. The event took time to Share2BeWell,” celebrating the initiatives that students have started to improve mental health in their schools and communities across the region. 

Work2BeWell students have created incredible initiatives to champion mental wellness

These initiatives include:

Staying CALM: Overcoming mental health issues and stereotypes

Kaiya Bates was named Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2022 , and her social impact initiative was “CALMing kits” for students filled with fidget toys that can aid with anxiety. In elementary school, Kaiya struggled with selective mutism, a severe anxiety disorder that causes a person to be unable to speak in certain social situations.

This project is really personal to me because it stems from a personal experience,” Bates says.

With her project, she has raised over $23,000 and made over 500 kits, supplying 14 out of 17 schools in her district with regulation kits.

Kaiyas work has been featured on Upworthy, Morning in America News, and the Talk2BeWell podcast.

I plan to move forward with my project to help kids all over Washington and hopefully the entire nation,” she says. 

Students for Mental Health Reform

Annika Vanlandingham is a junior at Carver Center in Maryland with a mission to change laws and help struggling teens. She works with DMV Students for Mental Health Reform, a legislative coalition connecting students in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Its platform is centered around student mental health awareness and advocacy on the local and state level.

Theyre committed to surveying students to get data about their mental health and partnering with elected officials to improve the functionality and success of mental health resources within schools.

Currently, we have been advocating for two Maryland state bills, HB0118: Excused Absences for Mental Health Needsand HB0657: Behavioral Health Screenings for Students,” Vanlandingham says. Our goal is to improve awareness so that students feel like they have a support system within their respective schools.”

The coalition also works with school districts to expand mental health resources and awareness in schools.

Fostering Connection through a Roadmap to Wellness

Kaitlyn Marsh and her team at the Texas Association of Student Councils (TASC) saw a deficit: School campuses werent places that students wanted to be.

So she and her team at TASC created a roadmap for students to help them feel welcome and connected on campus – starting with welcoming students back, putting up positive signage, having conversations with principals and staff at the school and connecting students to organizations and resources. 

Friendly Fridays

In May of 2021, Morgan Peters helped found her schools kindness club. Because she knew that social media use statistically led to higher levels of depression and anxiety in teens, she wanted to create a social media page to use as a force for kindness and positivity. 

She also started Friendly Fridays” to encourage random acts of kindness.

Kindness is a game-changer when it comes to mental health. Often when someone has a bad mental health day, they just need to know that someone cares about them,” Peters says. 

Ultimately, having kindness for yourself will help you feel better.”

Well Aware

Well Aware is a student-led organization that aims to foster long-lasting mental health awareness. Dominic Brown is a senior at Providence High School in Burbank California and is Well Aware founder and president.

We hope to strengthen our awareness, challenge the stigma and improve the experiences and interactions of the people of Providence,” Brown says.

As part of their initiative, Brown and his team developed an eight-month-long education program, opened space for discussions about suicide prevention, are working to push school start time to 9 a.m., and have added a mental health resources page to their school website. 

We have started critical conversations that will continue well into the future,” Brown says. 

Mental Health Week

Emilee Hamilton started a tradition of Mental Health Week at her school, Odessa High School in Missouri. 

Each day we put a spotlight on a different mental illness to educate students on that mental health issue,” Hamilton says.

Mental Health Week included a keynote speaker, providing an emotional first-aid kit to students, and playing group games that illuminated the prevalence of mental health struggles. 

Keynote Speech: Balancing Mental Health Activism and Self Care

Hailey Hardcastle is an education policy student at the University of Oregon, a mental health activist, and an original member of Work2BeWell. Along with another group of passionate students, Hardcastle worked to pass a law in Oregon that allows students to take a mental health day off from school. She was named one of the Teen Vogue's 21 Under 21: Young People Changing the World in 2019. 

Her mission is to empower students to take control of their education and health by having a voice in the lawmaking process.

In her keynote speech at the summit, Hardcastle candidly shared her own battle with mental health, beginning as a child who was diagnosed with trauma-induced anxiety due to issues in her home. In Hardcastles journey, working with a school counselor and taking mental health days off school were key pieces of her healing. 

Work2BeWell was part of Hardcastles healing journey and her journey to advocacy work. 

I remember immediately feeling like something was really different with this group. It was completely student-led and student-focused. We were encouraged to talk about topics that werent welcome in other spaces,” she says.

Her keynote message empowered high school students to know that they already have everything they need to make a difference. 

You are an expert because of your lived experiences. You dont have to wait until you have a degree or a stacked resume to be an expert on this stuff,” Hardcastle says. “There is an intrinsic power of a young person with a desire to create change in your community.” 

The second part of her keynote offered a balancing perspective: Dont sacrifice your own mental well-being on the altar of advocacy work. 

She challenged students to say no sometimes, to value the power of working slowly and to pace themselves to avoid burnout – which for Hardcastle, all comes down to being honest about your mental health. 

Although you can create change, you dont have to do it all at once,” she says. Your value lies within yourself and not the things youre changing in the world. You dont have to become president; you can just have a good day sometimes.”

The annual summit also featured seven breakout sessions: 

  • Legislative Advocacy & Creating Change in Your Community
  • All About Therapy with our Partner Providence
  • Educator Forum: Supporting Students to Activate Mental Wellness on Campus
  • Ending the Silence: A National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Educational Program
  • Parenting and Mental Health with Tara Rolstad 
  • Understanding and Overcoming High Academic Pressure with Youthline
  • BIPOC Mental Health Discussion

As Work2BeWell continues to empower students to de-stigmatize mental health issues in their communities, students are taking on leadership roles and responding to the most pressing issues in their own schools, communities, and states.

And in turn, more students will feel safer, cared for, and perhaps someday, join the movement of Work2BeWell.

Find the Talk2BeWell podcast, the podcast created by Providence and Work2BeWell on Apple Music, Spotify or the Work2BeWell website!

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Visit our Annual Report to our Communities page

To learn more about what we’re doing to help our caregivers and other community partners, check out our Annual Report to our Communities.

Related resources

Teens make a difference with mental health through Work2BeWell

Work2BeWell prioritizes the mental health of teens

The pandemic has changed how mental health is discussed and treated

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About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Providence Mental Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

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