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More than 15% of youth have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year.
Awareness around mental health concerns for young people is growing and two former Work2BeWell National Student Advisory Council members are helping lead the charge.
Adolescence and young adulthood have always been known for their times of turmoil. The term “growing pains” doesn’t just refer to physical aches. It can also point to the emotional and mental struggles during this phase of life.
Currently, roughly 20 million youth (between ages 3 and 17) live with some type of depression or other mental or behavioral health problem. This number was on the rise even before the COVID-19 pandemic led to nearly three years of social distancing and quarantining. Clearly, we must find a way to help young people open up to discuss their troubles and make it easier for them to get the help they need.
Providence is at the forefront of these efforts. We’re committed to promoting and normalizing conversations around mental wellness. One way we’re doing that is by supporting the new documentary, Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness. We also champion Work2BeWell, youth-led mental health, and wellness program targeted at teens, parents, and educators. The film and program have led to many encouraging narratives and advocacy efforts. Here, we profile two former Work2BeWell National Student Advisory Council members whose stories are making a positive impact.
Highlighting Hiding in Plain Sight
In June, PBS producer Ken Burns and his team released a four-hour documentary about the youth mental health crisis in the United States. Through interviews with 25 young people, the team examines the mental health struggles that span across all races, cultures, demographics, socio-economic groups, and genders.
During the film, the young people share their personal experiences and discuss their obstacles and the impacts of stigma, discrimination, fear, and silence. “This is a documentary created in the words of these young people. There’s little narration,” says Erik Ewers, the film’s co-director. “It shows the tapestry of human-lived experience.”
Along with the young people's stories, the film also dives into some of the factors that lead to mental health struggles and the obstacles that prevent access to proper treatment. Ewers encourages families to watch the film together so a conversation about mental health can happen naturally.
The documentary is currently streaming on PBS.
Touching at least one life
One of the young people in the film is Billie Henderson, a rising junior at Willamette University. She’s also the daughter of Robin Henderson, PsyD, chief executive of Behavioral Health for Providence Oregon, and W2BW’s chief clinical officer.
Billie is a former member of the Work2BeWell National Student Advisory Council (NSAC) and is no stranger to sharing her stories. While in high school, she gave interviews about her experience with the Providence eating disorders clinic. When her story prompted others to seek help, she realized the power of speaking out.
“My purpose is to help people in any way I can,” she says. “If I’m able to use my story and the pain I’ve experienced and turn it into something that can help other people who are struggling with the same things, then I’m more than happy to do so.”
That’s why she agreed to participate in Hiding in Plain Sight. Being a part of the documentary wasn’t just about helping other young people, though. She also wanted to help parents who struggle with the trauma of watching their child in pain. It’s important for parents to realize that helping their child navigate a mental health crisis doesn’t mean taking over every aspect of their lives to make sure they’re safe.
“It’s a natural response, but it can create a growing resentment between the child and the parent. As young people, we still need to feel that we have control over our decisions and our lives,” Billie says. “It’s definitely a learning experience. Parents and kids need to go through it together to figure out what a kid needs to get better.”
It’s easy to blame social media for much of the mental health crisis among young people. But Billie cautions that online interactions aren’t solely responsible. There’s much more going on in the world, including climate change, civil rights issues, racial strife, and police brutality, that can have a direct negative impact.
“There are many other things that have a great influence over mental health,” she says.
Taking a mental health day
Hailey Hardcastle, one of the founders of Providence’s Work2BeWell, recently took part in the Gen Z Innovators Changing the World panel during Aspen Ideas: Health. During the event, she shared details about her advocacy efforts, which were prompted by her own mental health struggles.
In high school, she and a group of other youth mental health advocates raised awareness of the importance of mental health. Thanks to their lobbying and advocacy efforts, the Oregon legislature passed a bill in 2019 that requires approved mental health days in K-12 schools. Much like regular sick days, schools keep track of these mental health days and require notes from parents.
"We wanted to show kids that their mental health is just as important as their physical health,” says Hailey, who is also a former NSAC member and current education and public policy student at the University of Oregon. “In fact, they’re connected.”
Today, she reaches out to schools via social media to mentor them about lobbying for mental health days in their schools, districts, and states. Currently, 11 states have this law on the books, and five more are considering it.
Days off from school are just the beginning, she says.
“I realize mental health days are just a Band-aid® solution to a larger societal and systemic problem,” she says. “That’s why I’m working with the Oregon Department of Education to lobby for and implement social, emotional, and learning standards in K-12.”
In fact, through Work2BeWell, she’s helping to produce student-created, clinically vetted mental health lesson plans for these schools.
Hailey also works with the Oregon School-Based Health Alliance to build clinics on school campuses. The goal is to make it easier for low-income students to see the doctors and therapists they need.
“I’m focused on upstream solutions to the mental health crisis. As a young person, I’m looking forward, thinking about what’s going to happen to my peers in 10 to 20 years,” she says. “How can we prevent those serious, life-changing, mental health issues now?”
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