Youth Filmmakers Explore Mental Health in JHF-Funded Pitt Research Project

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) funded and supported a University of Pittsburgh research project to create a series of films on mental health created by youth filmmakers in Pittsburgh. The films premiered during a public virtual event on June 23, along with a discussion about teen mental health and commentary from the research team. 

In this project, a group of eight youth across the city were trained to create, analyze, and screen their own films using a research method Collaborative Filmmaking to explore mental health stressors and supports in their lives. The study, led by Jessica Burke, PhD, MHS and Sara Baumann, PhD, MPH of the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, was also supported by a University of Pittsburgh Year of Creativity Grant. In addition to creating the films, youth participated in interviews with the research team about their experiences.

JHF Program Manager Deborah Murdoch helped recruit the teens from our PA Youth Advocacy Network and community partners. She also worked closely with the researchers to adapt to challenges presented during COVID-19 restrictions, help keep the youth filmmakers engaged, and identify opportunities to use the films for advocacy and program design.

The youth were asked to create films of any kind that addressed stressors in their daily lives. The exploratory, youth-created and directed films focus on the youths' vision, which took various creative approaches. The research team identified stressors as a theme across the films, including academics, college prep, school relationships, racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and family pressures. Supports also emerged as a theme, including spending time with pets, and going outside. Social media and the environment created by the pandemic (attending school online and limited travel/in-person socialization) were identified as both stressors and supports, depending on how they affected individual teens. Data synthesis of research findings is currently ongoing, and the research team hopes to share findings in a peer-reviewed manuscript in the coming months.

The discussion that accompanied the screening generated audience feedback and suggestions for better supporting teen mental health. Audience members recommended more creative opportunities for teens to express themselves, change the education system, and destigmatizing mental health. The team hopes for the films to reach a broader audience to lead to positive change.

Watch a recording of the screening and discussion here.

Read more in the TribLive here: Pitt project addresses teen mental health through lens of high school students

Listen to coverage on 90.5 WESA The Confluence here.

Read KDKA's coverage here: Pitt Research Project Explores Mental Health Of Teenagers 

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