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Mental Health Narrative Changing for the Better


Mental health challenges continue to increase. Young people and adults are faced with ongoing stress, fear, and trauma. So, it’s time to change the narrative about mental health and mental illness.

There have been some big, positive shifts in the narrative of mental health in recent years. That’s great news because it will lead to better understanding. And that helps reduce the stigma around mental illness.

We’re learning that there is so much more we can do to nurture mental health and well-being in ourselves and others. This is key for youth workers. Time to update your thinking and your youth work tool kit!

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    Out with the old, in with the new mental health narrative

    The old mental health narrative was that mental health and mental illness were the same. Actually, mental illness is a diagnosis whereas mental health is simply how a person functions.

    Mental illness used to be thought of as only a brain disease. But that didn’t account for the impact of environmental factors, relationships, life experiences.

    The new mental health narrative helps us understand that everyone has mental health but not everyone has mental illness. They are not the same. And having mental illness does not always diminish your mental health and well-being.

    Your mental health includes your emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

    • It affects how you think, feel, and act.
    • It determines how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
    • It can change at every stage of life.

    Many factors contribute to mental health. For example, biological factors such as genes and brain chemistry. Also, life experiences such as trauma, abuse, and racism.

    Self-care for you to use and share with young people

    As a youth worker and a caring adult, you are critical to ensuring young people have what they need to succeed. You play a role in supporting their mental health and well-being. And to do that well, you need to focus on your own self-care.

    Taking care of yourself is not selfish! And here are some simple practices you can do any time:

    • Look for beauty everywhere (it IS there!)
    • Practice mindful breathing
    • Take care of your body
    • Get good sleep
    • Keep a gratitude list
    • Connect with others
    • Be physically active
    • Control your intake of news narratives
    • Laugh
    • Be a role model

    Did you notice that every idea on that list can also be a practice you share with young people? Oftentimes, helping yourself is also the best way to help others. And young people will benefit from following your lead on self-care.

    You can change for the better too!

    Are you ready to embrace the new and improved mental health narrative? Your own mental health and well-being are vital to your ability to serve young people.

    The mental health and well-being of young people is vital to their healthy development and their ability to realize their full potential in life.

    You can learn more, explore more tools, and get access to a host of resources in our training, Promoting Optimal Mental Health. This training is free for YIPA members and only $20 for non-members.

    About the author

    Joanne Rice is the member satisfaction specialist of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Joanne a question or share your feedback about this blog, email

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