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Youth Mental Health: Reduce the Stigma

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Youth mental health matters. Are you doing enough to notice and offer help? If not, I hope this quick take will stir you to learn more and take action. Because no matter how you work with young people, your support can save lives.

Mental illness often begins early in life. In fact, 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24.

Learning to recognize signs and symptoms must be part of your youth work training. Unless you are professionally trained or licensed, you are not responsible for diagnosing youth mental illness. Nor are you in a position to offer any treatment for youth mental illness.

However, you have an ethical obligation to consult with a qualified professional that can diagnose and treat mental illness if you notice signs and symptoms of it.

With this in mind, you are always in a position to support youth mental health. The key is your willingness to learn and be deliberate. Recognize that the stigma regarding mental health is a big factor that negatively impacts the mental health of young people.

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    Accurate information helps reduce stigma

    • Mental health problems are common
    • Young people with mental health problems often do not seek help - they don’t feel free to talk about their challenges because of the stigma associated with the subject of mental health
    • Professional help is not always on hand - any caring adult can be a resource to help young people find the help they need
    • People often do not know how to respond – stigma causes a lot of unnecessary discomfort and fear. But it’s not hard to learn how to talk about youth mental health.

    Because youth mental health matters, ending the stigma would open avenues to help and hope. Young people struggling with mental health challenges often express feeling they are alone. They often think nobody would understand. And worse, they often think nobody would care.

    Four actions that diminish mental health stigma

    As a youth worker, it’s important to help young people recognize good mental health. You can help young people feel good versus ashamed about their mental health.

    Here’s how:

    1. Talk openly about mental health, especially in your programs
    2. Help people see physical and mental illness equally
    3. Show your compassion for people with mental illness
    4. Challenge stereotypes and biases when you hear others talk about mental health

    You can support youth mental health

    You know how to build trusting relationships. That helps create connections. Listening is your strength. Notably, you understand. Moreover, you care. And that’s just what young people need to feel comfortable enough to talk about mental health challenges.

    Your empathy can help a young person feel that they are not alone and your presence can be a connection to help them maintain hope. Your support can encourage them to pursue their passions and empower them to fulfill their potential.

    Therefore, put your advocacy for young people into action.

    Youth mental health matters. When youth workers learn to recognize when a young person is struggling, they can be a bridge for them from where they are in their struggle to where they can get the help they need. You can let them know they’re not alone, somebody understands, and somebody cares.

    If youth mental health matters to you, know that there is always something you can do to help. YIPA recently hosted a training called “Addressing Youth Mental Health Challenges.” Chris Shaw, CEO of The Heart and Mind Connection, shared his lived experience with mental health recovery with us. The training is free for YIPA members.

    About the author

    Barbara Van Deinse is the operations director 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 Barbara a question or share your feedback about this blog, email [email protected].

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