June 21, 2022 | Articles

Helping lead the charge, and the change, our youth deserve to see

By Mark Long, Director, The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health

Happy Pride Month!

I am Mark Long, the new Director of The Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health. I am an openly gay queer Black person from the Midwest, and I am a survivor. My passion is supporting the lives of the most vulnerable and I want to be a tool for transformation and visibility. For many years I have worked with the LGBTQ+ community through research and projects, including recently leading a local fund in Madison, Wisconsin to address homelessness among the LGBTQ+ community.

When I was growing up, society made me feel categorically less, stigmatized just for being myself. I felt this at school, in churches, at home, and in public. Youth are already one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States; youth who are poor or marginalized have limited access to resources and are made even more vulnerable. As a young person, I experienced traumatic hardships beyond my control - racism, prejudice, homophobia, and violence. There was no such thing as “mental illness” in my community. Being gay and Black was NOT discussed. On top of figuring out how to navigate the world, my idea of feeling safe was diminished and my mental health was impacted.

As I begin leading The Upswing Fund, I am committed to making sure we bring long-term awareness to the issue of adolescent mental health. Many youth in the U.S. face the same struggles and trauma that I have. Across areas including sexual orientation, race, gender expansive identity, and/or socio-economic status, we are seeing a stark rise in harmful policies driven to prevent space for LGBTQ+ youth and adolescents of color. We must safeguard the minds of our young people and give them tools to navigate a world that unfortunately will not always embrace them. We must lift their voices and amplify their stories.

I went into social work because I needed to heal. I sought social justice because I wanted to live in a world that validates and protects everyone. I joined The Upswing Fund to lead action for change and to empower those battling mental health issues. Traumatic experiences of gun violence, natural disasters, abuse, racial inequities, lack of resources, inadequate health care, and food disparities impact millions of youth every single day and create long-term mental health struggles.

I am proud to join The Upswing Fund because I know what it is like to be forgotten, displaced, overlooked, discriminated against, ignored, and pushed out. We must help lead the charge, and the change, our youth deserve to see – by amplifying the voices of those working on the frontlines to prioritize mental health across the nation for adolescents of color and LGBTQ+ youth.

Our first step needs to be increasing access to support, sustaining visibility, and expanding representation.

This Pride Month (and every month) please invest your time, your compassion, and your generosity towards the lives of vulnerable and marginalized youth. Support the voices of adolescents who cry out for support and acceptance. Your attention will support the many lives that are worth living. Let us show them how they matter!


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