May 23 Declared Teen Mental Health Awareness Day in Pennsylvania and City of Pittsburgh

From left: Bina Guo (senior, Pittsburgh CAPA), Lt. Governor John Fetterman, Connor Dalgaard (junior, West Allegheny High School), Abby Rickin-Marks (senior, Fox Chapel High School), Pittsburgh City Councilperson Erika Strassburger

The Pittsburgh City Council and Governor Tom Wolf officially declared May 23, 2021 as Teen Mental Health Awareness Day in the City of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, via a proclamation written by a team of high school students from the PA Youth Advocacy Network. Lt. Governor John Fetterman and City of Pittsburgh Councilperson Erika Strassburger presented the youth with the proclamations during an in-person celebration at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on May 23.

Since 2018, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation has convened the PA Youth Advocacy Network, comprised of representatives from 26 high schools and over 10 community partners, to mobilize youth voice and effectively advocate for change around teen mental health. JHF is also committed to teen mental health work through grants awarded in fall 2020 to 14 local organizations to support teen mental health programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, totaling nearly $400,000. This includes, in part, seed funding to create UpStreet Pittsburgh, a currently virtual adolescent behavioral health initiative in the process of becoming a walk-in storefront in Squirrel Hill. JHF convenes a Teen Mental Health Collaborative of these grantees to share information and expertise and forge new collaborations from a grassroots perspective.

A crowd gathered outside the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh for the Teen Mental Health Awareness Day event.

JHF Adolescent Behavioral Health team members Deborah Murdoch, Carol Frazer, and Sarah Pesi guided the students as they drafted the proclamations, facilitated the proclamations' submission, and organized the May 23 in-person event for the youth, parents, PA Youth Advocacy Network member organizations, JHF Board members and staff.

Lt. Governor Fetterman said, "It is such an important topic…it's not something we talked about when I was a teenager… thank you for bringing attention to this and for reminding us all that this is a critical area."

This proclamation comes at a crucial time, given that almost half of parents surveyed said their teen experienced a new or worsening mental health condition since the start of the pandemic, reports the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at Michigan Medicine. Additionally, we know that prior to the pandemic, 22.9% of children in the U.S. had a psychiatric disorder, with half of all psychiatric illnesses occurring before the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 24.

Youth advocate and West Allegheny High School student Connor Dalgaard said, "It's crucial to begin this change at the local level…Creating a Teen Mental Health Day in Pittsburgh and in the state of Pennsylvania provides the building block needed to solve the mental health crisis at its roots, by giving youth the ability to build on the headway of adults today."

The Beaver County Youth Ambassador Program met at an event to recognize teen mental health.

The participating students who wrote the proclamation are representatives of West Allegheny High School, Fox Chapel High School, Taylor Allderdice High School, and a recent alumna of Winchester Thurston/current Barnard College student. The students' work on the city and Pennsylvania proclamations inspired action in Beaver County, where the Beaver County Commissioner also acknowledged the day with a celebration at the courthouse Thursday, May 27th led by the Beaver County Youth Ambassador Program.

"Teens are not just the leaders of tomorrow; they are the leaders of today… I'm so proud of the work that the youth are doing today," said Councilperson Strassburger.

Watch a video of the proclamation presentation here and a video of messages from community and government leaders, including Governor Tom Wolf and Pittsburgh City Councilperson Erika Strassburger here.

Over the summer, the PA Youth Advocacy Network will hold listening sessions to gather youth perspectives on current teen mental health topics. To learn more and join the Network calls, visit payouthadvocacy.org.

WPXI covered the story here: Pittsburgh leaders declare May 23 as Teen Mental Health Awareness Day.

Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle: Fox Chapel student raises awareness of teen mental health issues

Read more in the JCC blog here: Teens Bring About the First Teen Mental Health Awareness Day

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