May 16, 2022 | Articles

Letting Youth Lead: Mental Health Solutions by and for Youth

Adolescents know what they need. Empowering youth to share their needs, the forms of support that work best for them, and the barriers they experience is a powerful tool in advancing equitable mental health care. Listening to them and including them at the table is a crucial part of advancing equitable mental health care policy and programs. This Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing some updates on how we’re prioritizing the value of youth voice, how our partners are letting youth lead, and how to get connected to the campaigns our partners are running to mobilize youth from awareness into action.

First-Ever Mental Health Youth Action Forum at The White House

We’re excited to be a mentor at this month’s Mental Health Youth Action Forum on May 18th in partnership with MTV Entertainment Group and coordination with the Biden-Harris Administration.

The Forum will in part take place at the White House and participants will get to hear from government officials including the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, and (recently announced!) artist Selena Gomez. Stay tuned for a follow-up post about our experience at the Forum!

In the lead up to the Forum, non-profit mentors, including leaders from The Upswing Fund and some of our partners, have been paired with 30 mental health youth activists to develop campaign ideas leveraging storytelling and media to encourage young adults to take positive action on their mental health. The campaigns will be presented to an audience of industry partners who may choose to work directly with the participants on making their ideas a reality later this year.

“It is our hope that the concepts that are presented at the Forum will be carried forward and developed into a tangible creative campaign that can reach millions of young people across the country.” Chis McCarthy, president/CEO of Paramount Media Networks and MTV Entertainment Studios (Source: Forbes)

Upswing Grantee Partners Bringing Youth to the Table

Core to our grantmaking approach is a commitment to support organizations that include the youth they serve in the planning and evaluation of their programming. Our partners model best practices for bringing youth to the table and we’re proud of they way they let youth lead.

“We (Black Girls Smile) revamped our Junior Advisory Board to provide a more extensive and hands-on experience for young people that want to be involved in the direction and overall mission of the organization. The Junior Advisory Board has been pivotal in helping evaluate youth needs and assisting our organizations with being agile and responsive to the needs and desires of the youth we serve.”

Indiana Youth Group has a youth-led, peer government group called the Youth Council. It is overseen by a staff member elected directly by the youth. The Youth Council allows youth the chance to share their thoughts and opinions regularly.”

We Are Family youth are integral … to the Mental Health Assistance program planning and evaluation. We provided quality assurance through surveys distributed to participating youth and mental health professionals, pre- and post-tests for cultural competency trainings, and interviews with participants. We solicit informal feedback from our youth social support groups, which often generates [new] ideas for program direction and change.”

Get Connected this Mental Health Month: Campaigns, Resources, and Events

This Mental Health Awareness Month comes at a critical time as the United States continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing adolescent mental health emergency. Youth across the nation are returning to classrooms and community spaces with unprecedented need for mental and behavioral health care. Recent CDC analyses have shown that over the past year, more than a third of high school students reported poor mental health and 44% said they persistently felt sad or hopeless.

The isolation, trauma, poverty, and grief resulting from the pandemic has led to sharp increases in mental health challenges and has doubled the incidence of youth depressive and anxiety symptoms. For youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth, these increases are exacerbated by disparities in service access and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that further strain their mental health and hinder their ability to access support.

However, there are some bright spots to recognize in all of this. Many of our partners have shared that they believe stigma among youth is decreasing, citing increased awareness of mental health and growing online mental health communities on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Adolescents are more willing to talk about their mental health needs and challenges and seek out help.

One of the successful ways we’ve seen stigma addressed head-on is through the work of campaigns that normalize conversations about mental health, share resources, and help youth and their families take the first step in seeking care. From #MentalHealthIsHealth to #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, we are excited to see campaigns spark healthy dialogue and encourage folks to take a step beyond awareness and move to action, like Mental Health Action Day.

As a Mental Health Action Day partner, we’re proud to stand with 1,700+ partners around the world who have committed to take action on mental health this May 19th. This year’s theme is Connection and encourages individuals to connect with themselves, others, and their communities. If you’re interested in joining us as a Mental Health Action Day partner, sign up [here](

Throughout the month we’ll be sharing resources and opportunities to connect with our grantee partners. We’ve listed some of these below and encourage you to connect directly with them to learn more.

Active Minds’ Mental Health+ campaign is built on the idea that mental health is interwoven into every part of our lives. Get started today with a list of 31 simple actions you can take to center mental health in your own life.

Aliento’s Uplift campaign provides everyday mental health tips and short exercises you can complete at home, as well as social media graphics, videos, and community resources on mental health. The campaign and its resources are available in both English and Spanish.

Bring Change to Mind launched their Human to Human campaign to encourage open communication and building connections with others as a means of combatting mental health stigma. Access their educational social media toolkit here.

Centerlink/Q Chat Space, in partnership with Hopelab and The It Gets Better Project, is preparing to launch a new, free digital mental health tool designed for and with LGBTQ+ teens- imi. Preview imi here.

Mental Health America launched a new Mental Health Month 2022 Toolkit inclusive of free, practical resources to support positive mental health and well-being.

Mindful Philanthropy has launched a blog to share resources and guidance for mental health funders.

Pinterest has curated a Mind Your Wellness group board to share mental health and well-being resources in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month. The board includes their Pinterest Havens: A Whole Mood collection and on May 9th, Charitha Chandran (who plays Edwina Sharma in Season 2 of Bridgerton) will launch a five-part series focused on mental health for the South Asian community.

The JED Foundation has created downloadable tip sheets and shareable graphics for young people, their caregivers, educators, and clinicians. They’ve also created a social media toolkit and list of resources to help young people find connections, ask for and offer help, and find joy. Learn more here.

The Steve Fund will be hosting a webinar on May 19th geared towards families. Register for “Families Healing Together” here. In addition, check out their Spring Black Young Women Wellness Series and upcoming sessions here.

Your Words Matter is an educational campaign by Rare Impact in partnership with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s Mental Health First Aid program. Throughout the month, look out for resources and expert insights to bring awareness to the power and influence of your words. Learn more here and watch this year’s Virtual Event here.

Youth Move National’s 2022 MOVE It Forward theme is Pieces of Me, focused on intersectional perspectives as they relate to personal identity and youth-serving programs. Their core message underscores the importance of identity in mental health and accessing culturally responsive care. Throughout the month of May, they will feature new intersectional portraits and continue to accept submissions for their Intersectional Stories project. Learn more and check out their 2022 toolkit here.

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