JHF Teen Mental Health Panel Features Youth Voices

Five youth advocates spoke as panelists for the Dan Miller Disability and Mental Health Summit.

On April 12, the PA Youth Advocacy Network presented a youth voice panel as part of the 2021 Representative Dan Miller Disability and Mental Health Summit. The panel featured Abby Rickin-Marks (senior, Fox Chapel High School), Connor Dalgaard (junior, West Allegheny High School), Candice Jones (senior, Beaver Falls High School), Adrianna Grande (sophomore, Baldwin High School), and Bina Guo (senior, Pittsburgh CAPA). Jewish Healthcare Foundation Adolescent Behavioral Health team members Deborah Murdoch, Carol Frazer, and Sarah Pesi, staff the Advocacy Network. They supported the youth panelists and helped them to organize their policy recommendations into an engaging and uplifting presentation. In conversation with Representative Jessica Benham, the five youth panelists shared their experiences attending school and living through the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they received support from their teachers, schools, and community/peer networks. They also recommended strategies for parents, teachers, and school leaders to support teens' mental health.

The panelists introduced models that schools and adults could use to support teen mental health across Pennsylvania. These include establishing peer support groups like those at Pittsburgh CAPA and the Friendship Circle-Pittsburgh, training students and teachers to regularly destigmatize mental health through programs like Stand Together, increasing resources for guidance counselors to achieve the recommended ratio of 250 students:1 counselor at all PA districts; and increasing students' mental health service options through programs like UpStreet Pittsburgh.

The panelists also called for increased attention towards the needs of students who are members of marginalized groups, including students of color and members of the LGBT+ community. These students, the youth said, may experience poor mental health compounded by the effects of oppression and discrimination, and may find fewer opportunities to access quality mental health services.

The youth panelists also suggested that government funds allocated to help students during the pandemic should support schools most in need, as well as mental health advocacy efforts that uplift the voices of teens, who are the experts on their experiences. The youth recommended that adults could help by listening to youth and learning more about their mental health experiences, especially pertaining to social media and changing technology use as a result of the pandemic. Schools can support students by creating opportunities for students to build relationships with teachers and counselors, educating teachers, and creating a culture of acceptance and openness around mental health, the youth said.

In closing, the panelists reminded student audience members that they are not alone and encouraged listeners to take the first step towards learning more about mental health and uplifting youth voices.

This panel builds on JHF's participation in previous Disability & Mental Health Summits, where JHF facilitated sessions to engage youth in conversation on mental health issues and gather their perspectives on issues important to them. JHF's youth mental health advocacy fits into the Foundation's broader work to promote teen mental health. In 2020, JHF granted nearly $400,000 to local community-based organizations supporting teen mental health, and JHF formed a Teen Mental Health Collaborative of these organizations.

A recording of the session can be viewed here.

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