The White House hosted its first ever Youth Mental Health Forum on May 18th. The event’s ambitious goal was to elevate the voices of young people, shatter the stigma surrounding mental health, and find viable solutions.
The forum, hosted by the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the MTV Entertainment group, included numerous experts and speakers, such as First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden; Selena Gomez; and the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy.
The event comes at a time when conversations about mental health are increasing, and more and more high-profile people are speaking up about their own mental health and the impact illness can have on their lives.
In conjunction with the event, the Biden administration announced $2 million in grant funding on Wednesday to establish a National Center of Excellence on social media and Mental Wellness to help protect children online.
The Youth Mental Health Forum panel discussion was hosted by Selena Gomez, who is very open about her own diagnosis of bipolar disorder. You can watch this panel discussion, which covered a number of important topics below.
These are MQ’s top three takeaways:
- The Pandemic has taken a toll on youth mental health
Mental illness was already a growing problem, long before COVID-19 impacted all our lives. In 2019 1 in 3 high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. But the pandemic and social distancing has only worsened the problem. Secretary Xavier Becerra, Department of Health and Human Services noted,
“The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on the mental health of young Americans, especially in communities where resources are thin. Though mental health gets discussed globally, we still have work to do to ensure everyone in America is heard and knows where to find help.”
US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy has already addressed the urgent need for research and action in his Surgeon General Advisory issued last year. This message was echoed by President Biden during his March State of the Union Address, when he promised to invest $5million in studying the impact of social media on young people.
- There must be a focus on solutions
Eighteen young leaders and advocates for mental health spoke at the forum, sharing their personal challenges with mental health. The consistent message was that a wide range of solutions are needed to support vulnerable people. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that can be taken.
Research into the underlaying mechanisms of different mental health conditions is of course important, but impactful research and action is needed to find the most effective solutions and interventions for different demographics and better support for young people.
One important area of solutions-based research is focusing on the effectiveness of psychological treatments. In 2017 MQ invested in a study with the University of Pennsylvania to develop a prediction model that could determine what the best course of treatment might be for an individual living with a mental illness. This project, called the Stratified Medicine Approaches for Treatment Selection (SMART) will enable clinicians to more accurately recommend different treatments for people experiencing mental illness so more people can receive the help they need and get better faster.
- Connecting with peers is essential
One of the recuring messages from the White House Youth Mental Health Forum’s many speakers was the importance of talking about personal experiences with peers. Being able to discuss feelings without fear of judgement or stigmatisation is essential for many young people who felt isolated.
Juan Accosta from the Broken Universe movement spoke about how important that peer support was for him.
“I think we all have different backgrounds, but we all share the same struggle of knowing what its like to feel like you’re not ok. And not knowing who to go to. We came together with that purpose we want to have other young people to go to people and tell them how they are feeling.”
Selena Gomez also spoke about the importance of peer support and community. She recently launched a media platform that focuses on mental health to create an on-line community.
There are many different organisations you can reach out to if you are feeling alone.
The National Alliance on mental Illness runs different peer led support groups where individuals have the opportunity to share their experiences and gain support from other attendees.
The Jed Foundation offers resources and support to young people to help them to thrive.
The American Foundation for Suicide prevention offers help and resources, as well as a wide range of personal stories on their website from people who have personal experience with suicidal feelings.
You can watch the White House conversation on mental health here: