Mental health youth advocates have never been more important.
Trigger Warning: Brief mention of suicide and mental disorders.
Considering that it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we should all take time to check in on ourselves, our loved ones, our peers—anyone. This May, it’s especially critical that we acknowledge the prevalence of mental health problems and the importance of treating them.
The pandemic has taken a toll on the minds of Americans. We have seen a huge uptick in mental health problems among the U.S. population in correlation with COVID. The CDC reported that a June 2020 survey showed that 40.9 percent of respondents reported an “adverse mental or behavioral health condition.”
10.7 percent reported that they seriously considered suicide in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. These numbers were considerably higher than years prior, and these percentages were even higher among racial and ethnic minorities.
Despite the difficulties that we’ve all faced in the past year, there are people we can look to for encouragement, advice, or comfort. Here are five inspirational youth advocates for mental health to follow in 2021:
23-year-old Gabby Frost is the founder and Executive Director of Buddy Project. Founded when Frost was only 14, her non-profit works to raise mental health awareness and prevent suicide.
She created a “peer support system” for teens and young adults founded on the idea that a support system can “combat isolation and loneliness,” as stated on their website.
Some of her accolades include being named a Glamour College Woman of the Year, Global Teen Leader, and PB Extraordinary Teen. She also won the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial Award. We can all appreciate Frost’s work against isolation, as this past year the pandemic has jeopardized our support systems and disconnected all of us from loved ones.
Blum is known for sharing her personal experience with bipolar disorder on platforms such as Instagram and her blog, Halfway2Hannah. She also wrote “The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love”—her first book which focuses on her journey toward self-love in a society that discriminates against those living with mental disorders.
Working to de-villainize those with mental pathologies as Blum is doing is so important. The word “bipolar” is too often used incorrectly in a colloquial context to denote someone as “crazy” or unstable in some way.
This use of the word is extremely reductive to what bipolar disorder is and what a person living with it might be experiencing. Bipolar disorder can include manic episodes with psychosis, yes, but this is not true in each case. For some, it could present through predominantly depressive episodes. It is a case-by-case basis.
Nonetheless, bipolar disorder can be treated and managed. Although a person may be living with bipolar disorder, or any mental disorder, they are a person just the same–they deserve our understanding and empathy.
Hannah Blum is teaching us not only to allot compassion and understanding to ourselves and our mental health journeys but to have compassion and understanding for others.
Farbstein is a 21-year-old speaker and activist. He was diagnosed with a rare form of dwarfism and has found empowerment in his experience. Today, he continues to encourage self-acceptance. He motivates others to love themselves through his social media and giving talks around the country.
Farbstein is reminding us to accept and love our bodies and selves the way they are. His work has been especially prevalent over the past year, as COVID has led to an increase in body image issues across the US.
This is not surprising considering the pandemic has exacerbated anxieties surrounding our weight, ability, body image, and overall health. You can look to Brandon Farbstein if you need inspiration or motivation to help you through a rough time.
Ash, now 29, started her Podcast Black Girl in Om when she was 22 years old. Her podcast focuses on guided meditation for Black women. The goal of Black Girl in Om is to “unapologetically expand the consciousness of Black women to transform. Period.”
According to Mayo Clinic, Meditation can help reduce overall stress, increase patience, and increase creativity. It can also help manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, heart disease, chronic pain, and more.
Ash has successfully created an accessible space for her listeners to practice self-reflection and self-care. Spaces such as Ash’s Black Girl in Om, where Black people and POC can check in on themselves without the presence of the white gaze, are particularly relevant during this time of social unrest.
Arheghan started their activism by focusing on LGBTQ issues in the 8th grade. They became aware of the intersection between mental health and queer identity and started working to educate and combat mental health issues among LGBTQ.
As they told NBC News, “I had to fight for the rights I didn’t have because no one was fighting for them fully for me.” Currently, Arheghan is a youth ambassador for The Trevor Project—a nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.
As quoted on NBC News, Arheghan would encourage that “if you see a problem, you’re never too small of a person to make a change and to speak out about that problem.”
What can we learn from mental health youth advocates?
There’s a lot that we can learn from these mental health youth advocates. At the very least, they encourage us to take the time to check in on ourselves.
And, if you have the mental resources, they tell us to support those around us as best we can. All of us deserve patience and compassion when it comes to our well-being.