Teen Mental Health Advocacy Series Finale Focuses on Youth Perspective

2024 Advocacy Series participants attend series finale

The PA Youth Advocacy Network, a Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) program, launched the 2024 Advocacy Series on January 31. Over the following eight weeks, teens learned advocacy skills, which they applied to their final presentations with school and community leaders on March 20. There were 27 series participants in grades 9-12 from 8 counties across the commonwealth, including Allegheny, York, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Dauphin, and Washington Counties.

The Advocacy Series brings together high school students from a variety of backgrounds and skill sets to create a network of youth advocates empowered to share experiences and become advocates for mental health systems change both back in their communities and across Pennsylvania.

This year's projects focused on student organizing around different areas of the PA Youth Advocacy Platform, leveraging different advocacy strategies, including:

  • Using social media as a tool for mental health advocacy through creating communities, teaching skills, leveraging the platform to collect data, and using the platform to educate and share information to call others to action.
  • Utilizing policy as a lever through conversations with elected and school officials to change school policy, practice, and curriculum.
  • Conducting surveys to gain additional perspective to show the impact of mental health and the scope of issues impacting teen mental health and support for changes.
  • Leveraging storytelling, testimonials, podcasts, and YouTube to raise awareness about an issue and start a dialogue around advocacy issues and mental health topics.

The series was further enhanced by the leadership of the youth facilitators who helped guide group projects, facilitate discussions, and teach content in the series: Tyler Nolt, Ja'Nya Coleman, Rikki Shukla, Ishani Bansal, Anna Chong, Abby Chong, and Saanvi Vereddigari. It was also enhanced by guest speakers who provided content and shared their insights, including Dr. Dana Milakovic, Mental Wellness and Trauma Specialist – Office for Safe Schools, PA Department of Education; Connor Dalgaard, Network Alum and Student Mental Health Advocate at Vassar College; and Zoe Masters from Pennsylvania Education Law Center.

As the series concludes, the students will take the advocacy skills they learned back to their communities, where they will be empowered changemakers. Through the PA Youth Advocacy Network, youth can find a community of organizations of youth and youth organizations willing to support their work, a platform to share their projects, and opportunities for statewide advocacy around mental health as they continue in their advocacy journeys. 

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