“Just having the space and courage to talk about it was so helpful…”
“As our ASB team worked through conversations about the struggles we are dealing with, we learned that we are not alone in our challenges. Many teens are struggling with loneliness, pressure to succeed, depression and difficult relationships, leading many of us to feel alone and isolated…“Champions of Change Student Leader at High School Event
It is often a surprise to teens to learn suicide is the leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24 in the state of Oregon. Actually, I’m surprised about how many people don’t know the prevalence of teen suicide in our country. Teen suicide in the United States has increased 56% in the past two decades, according to the Centers of Disease Control.
Teen anxiety, depression and suicide is becoming an epidemic in our country leaving many adults anxious as we ponder why. As you may know, The Lemonade Project has partnered with the Grace & Kindness Foundation to launch Champions of Change. A program for teens to talk about mental health challenges, primary contributors and possible solutions.
During the past few months, I worked with a leadership class from a private christian school who were the first group to complete a full program cycle of Champions of Change. I’ve read enough research about teen anxiety and depression to know at 51-years-old I have no understanding of what our youth is facing when it comes to growing up and developing amid social and digital media. My belief is if we need solutions to this teen epidemic we had better enlist the help of kids.
While what I’ve learned over the past 18 months isn’t surprising, it was often heartbreaking as a parent to hear. The good news is that the solutions provided by the teens, themselves, are really very simple and focus on time-proven values and behaviors.
The first few sessions with the private school Champions of Change, we delved into discussing what the kids thought the primary contributors were to teen anxiety, depression and suicide.
The top three the youth identified were:
- Kids don’t understand mental illness and don’t have the tools to navigate it.
- The pressure and expectation to be perfect (parents, social media, school).
- Feelings of anxiety and depression are minimized and shamed.
Our subsequent sessions focused on possible solutions and supportive peer messages. The following were their top solutions:
- Develop tools: education through schools (add mental health to health class); create outlets to connect, share and support one another as a community/whole rather than just “therapy.”
- Empower perspective: challenge reaction to others mental health comments; embrace change and courage.
- Address deeper issues not just superficial comment; create opportunities for one-on-one connection.
When it came down to it, there was a lot of talk about feeling disconnected, and not just because of Covid. Social and digital media have created a fishbowl where kids and their parents continue to compare their lives to the seemingly “perfect” lives of others. And, while social and digital media are here to stay, we as adults can help foster a better understanding and awareness of mental wellbeing, offer a safe place to talk about it, provide educational resources, and help create opportunities for real human-to-human connection with youth, during and after school.
The high school Champions decided to create an event for their high school peers which focused on connection and included opportunities to sign up for small group activities and events over the summer.
“We began to understand the importance of connection. We were created for community, and we simply can’t navigate life on our own. We need each other. We need to talk about issues on our hearts.”Champions of Change Student Leader at High School Event
During the progress of our work together, the Run With Grace event took place. Run With Grace commemorates the beautiful life of Grace Holt, who died by suicide at age 15. To honor grace and spread messages of hope and inspiration, the students created messages which we placed around the course as lawn signs.
Some of the messages included:
- You are in charge of your life.
- You always have a choice.
- Have courage to explore the possibilities
- Your feelings are valid.
- Let your anger prompt change
- Comparison is the thief of joy.
- Don’t worry about others’ opinions.
Out of the mouth of babes, right? It would serves us all well to slow down and listen to the wisdom of these kids. They know what they need. Let’s help them navigate it.