Youth Advocates Lead PA Mental Health Awareness Day Proclamations

Youth advocates Laila King, Dharini Maruthu Pandian, Ja'Nya Coleman, and councilwoman Bethany Hallam (front row) with council members.

In recognition of Teen Mental Health Awareness Day on May 23, teens from across Pennsylvania – coordinated by the PA Youth Advocacy Network – drafted a proclamation raising awareness about youth mental health which was recognized in a record seven counties and by Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro.

Teen Mental Health Awareness Day is recognized each year to celebrate the work of teen mental health advocates and give teens a platform to highlight issues and solutions related to teen mental health. The proclamation, therefore, changes every year as a new group of high school students from across the state come together to write the proclamation and author individual proclamations in their counties. The effort each year is led by youth leaders of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation's PA Youth Advocacy Network. The inaugural proclamation began in May 2021 and has expanded every year since.

This year, 16 teens worked together to author the statewide proclamation approved by Gov. Shapiro. Authors of the statewide proclamation this year include: Karla Aguay (Berks), Vanesa Aguay (Berks), Ishani Bansal (Montgomery), Mia Bell (Chester), Grant Cibulsky (Berks), Ja'Nya Coleman (Allegheny), Samantha Dasika (Berks), Katelynn Humbles (Berks), Emily Kwon (Lancaster), Tyler Nolt (Berks), Dharini Maruthu Pandian (Allegheny), Rhea Patel (Montgomery), Cadence Perez (Berks), Niharika Shukla (Cumberland), Deborah Uchendu (Berks), and Saanvi Vereddigari (Chester).

Additionally, the Teen Mental Health Proclamation was recognized in 7 counties, including Allegheny County presented by Ja'Nya Coleman, Laila King, and Dharini Maruthu Pandian; Berks County, in partnership with VOiCEup Berks, presented by Vanesa Aguay, Grant Cibulsky, Samantha Dasika, Zachary "Sage" Carter (Berks), Addison McKittrick (Berks), Katelynn Humbles, and Tyler Nolt; Chester County presented by Saanvi Vereddigari and Mia Bell; Cumberland County presented by Niharika Shukla; Montgomery County presented by Ishani Bansal; and Washington County in partnership with Washington County Teen Outreach Center presented by Ajulae Lyle; and teen-focused lines were added to the Lancaster County Mental Health Awareness Month proclamation in partnership with Touchstone Foundation and were presented by Emily Kwon.

Teen advocates used the opportunities at various presentations of the proclamations to emphasize the importance of safe school spaces for all students, addressing mental health stigma, and making sure no one feels like they are struggling alone. It was also an opportunity to promote the various mental health resources available within each community.

"Even though Teen Mental Health Awareness Day has passed, we hope you will continue to amplify teen voices in your communities. Youth advocates are powerful voices of change and guides for this work as we move to address teen mental health and identify solutions," said JHF Policy Associate Sarah Pesi, MSPPM.

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