At a meeting this past September, six teens stepped in front of Beach Cities Health District (BCHD) leadership, school district officials and principals to deliver a powerful message: mental health stigma is officially being put on notice in the Beach Cities. It’s got to go. And so does the antiquated and misinformed societal notion that people with a mental health condition are somehow damaged.
“We need be open about the fact that 20 percent of us struggle with a mental health condition during our teenage years, yet most don’t seek treatment,” said a Redondo Union High student during the presentation. “There’s nothing shameful or weak about needing help, and we are going to start an honest conversation to make that clear.”
The student group has plans to usher in a new era among their peers, one rooted in understanding, compassion and support for teens who suffer, often in silence, from a mental health condition. They’re starting by organizing their own Teen Mental Health Awareness Week (Nov. 13-16). During the week, students and school staff will be encouraged to wear purple as a sign of solidarity and pass out custom “snap bracelets” inked with an uplifting message of support for teen mental health. Student-led assemblies, resource booths, an art display and short video contest aimed at removing stigma are also in the works.
“We don’t marginalize people who have physical illnesses,” echoed a Mira Costa High senior, “so why are we so unaccepting of those with mental conditions? We need to stop putting up social barriers to treatment and care.”
The six-student working group is part of BCHD’s Youth Advisory Council, a collection of 50 middle and high schoolers developing peer-to-peer strategies to help combat school health issues ranging from mental health and substance use to social media and vaping. The council, which meets quarterly at BCHD to brainstorm and pitch ideas around social-emotional wellness, is a key component of the Beach Cities Partnership for Youth – a growing coalition of more than 100 local health officials, educators, parent groups, civic organizations and law enforcement working together to improve mental health and reduce substance use in the Beach Cities.
“We assembled the Youth Advisory Council to empower local students and give them a seat at the table,” said Tom Bakaly, BCHD CEO. “Who better to brainstorm innovative solutions to teen health issues than the actual students experiencing them? We’re excited to support and partner with these remarkable students and can’t wait to see what they come up with next.”
For more information and links to resources and healthy parenting tips, visit bchd.org/talk.