Many teenagers want to speak out about mental health but don’t know how. I knew I wanted to be an advocate, but didn’t think I had the experience. After doing this for a year now, I realized that we all are able to make change for our generation. Just because I didn’t have previous experience did not not mean that I had never worked to make a change in the lives of students or how their mental health was viewed. Growing up with close relatives who struggle with mental illness has helped atune me to the challenges of my peers, and I hadn’t realized that my own experience as an ally for my friends and family had allowed me to develop a unique perspective on the ways that mental health is viewed in our communities.
Working as a representative for a youth-led program was an opportunity for me to share my perspective with other students. It was also an incredible opportunity to hear firsthand from students that were experiencing the challenges we were talking about. I am continually impressed by my peers and their vulnerability in advocating for the challenges in their own lives. Through my involvement with the mental health advocacy community, I have seen how student leaders across the nation lead the student mental health cause. While you don’t need an organization to make change, working with a formal group can allow you to make connections that will inspire your work.
My advice is to talk to the people around you – you’re going to learn so much, and lots of what you learn will inform your advocacy journey. Having conversations, applying what you learn in your work, and find connections that will inspire and promote your activism. Of the many benefits of doing this work, the connections you make will also benefit your own mental health.