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How To Support Our Teens With Their Mental Health

Lauren Cikara of Active Minds joins me today for an important conversation about supporting our teens in the area of mental health. Active Minds is the nation’s premier nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for our teens and young adults.

Through education, research, advocacy, and a focus on young adults ages 14–25, Active Minds opens up the conversation about mental health and creates lasting change in the way mental health is talked about, cared for, and valued in the United States.

This is one conversation you don’t want to miss!

Scroll down to read the full episode transcribed.

What You Will Learn: 

  • How can we support our teens with their mental health?
  • How to talk to our teens about their problems using the Validate, Appreciate, and Refer method.
  • Why are so many still hesitant to discuss mental health and how we, as parents, can help our kids by asking the right questions?
  • Tips to empower your teen when a friend tells them they are having suicidal thoughts.
  • How parents can be better listeners to their teens versus jumping in to fix things.
  • How do we equip our youth to have everyday conversations with each other so that they are paying attention to their peers?
  • How can we discern if it is just a bad day versus if their kid is in a mental health crisis?
  • Why are kids are having so many mental health issues today?
  • Tips for teens transitioning to college and what to look for in terms of mental health support so if it’s needed, your teen knows where to go.

Where you can find Active Minds:

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And here is the episode typed out!

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone, and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.

SHERYL:    Lauren, Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens podcast. I am so happy that you’re here. 

LAUREN:    Thanks, Sheryl, for having me today. I’m excited to be here.

SHERYL:    I’m excited for you to be here too. We were talking, even before we jumped on here, just how needed this conversation is with you. We’re going to be talking all about mental health and the role that you play in mental health and Active Minds, and how to help middle school, high school, and kids that are transitioning to college. 

I just want to dive in. And first, hear a little bit more about you and how you became, I want to say passionate, around mental health.

LAUREN:    Yeah, so I’ve always worked with students, either at the university level or at the K through 12 levels. I worked in higher education for a little bit working with students and families navigating where they wanted to go to school, picking a major, staying in college, and then successfully graduating from college, and then sort of took a left turn into school health and wellness by working to teach sexual health education. 

I did a lot of bully prevention work and then worked across the state of Colorado, helping to facilitate Colorado’s version of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it’s called the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. The more I worked with schools and community partners in really utilizing the health and wellness, student-level data, the more mental health kept coming up. We could see a slow uptick in the mental health statistics of what we were seeing in high school students and middle school students navigating on a day-to-day basis. 

And there was just a need. A lack of resources, a lack of understanding, and a need to figure out what we can do to support youth mental health. And so, finding Active Minds was just a really wonderful piece of that puzzle for me. 

Active Minds has been around for 19 years. We started when our founder, Allison, lost her brother to suicide when they were both university students. And what she realized in that experience was that her brother, Brian, nor she really had the resources to talk about mental health to understand the complexities of mental health and get the resources and support needed to navigate mental health or mental illness. And so that’s why she started Active Minds. 

It was really at a university space to really change the conversation and culture about mental health. And so, for 19 years, we’ve been working in the higher ed space. And over the last few years, we’ve been working in the high school space, and we’re about to embark on working in the middle school space, really empowering youth to have this conversation about mental health.

SHERYL:    I love that you’re going to start with middle school kids to start even younger.

LAUREN:    Yeah, it’s definitely needed because they’re experiencing a lot of mental health things. We all have mental health. And so, I think that’s something that we have to realize mental health didn’t just happen overnight. We all have it, we have good days, and we have bad days. And that’s okay. 

And so really ensuring that our middle school students and our high school students have the language to understand what that is so that they can articulate, “Yeah, I am not having a great day, I am feeling really low, I need more support.” 

That’s really empowering for them. So that’s why we are excited about the resources that we have at Active Minds. Because we just want people to have everyday conversations about mental health because we all have mental health.

SHERYL:    Wow, have you found that it – I mean, I know the answer, and I’m sure everybody listening knows the answer, but I don’t think we can say it enough – we don’t feel alone. Being able to have the conversation versus not talking about it. 

LAUREN:    It takes a lot sometimes for some people to be brave to tell someone, “hey, I need help. I need to tell somebody what I’m going through or what I’m feeling.” And so, we really are thinking about this from a community sense.  

How do we equip our youth to have everyday conversations with each other so that they are paying attention to their peers? Our parents and caregivers have everyday conversations about mental health with their young people or their family members so that they can start paying attention to some of the warning signs when somebody may be navigating a mental illness or a mental health crisis. 

So we have something called “validate, appreciate, refer.” It’s one of the tools that you can use in any setting. And so if somebody is coming to you and saying, “Hey, I’m not having a great day.” You validate that, “yeah, you’re not having a great day, I get it.”

Appreciate that they’re coming to you, and then refer them if there’s more to them not having a good day and that they need more support than just having a conversation with you, then you need to know where to go. It can be as simple as “I need to go tell my mom that you just disclosed something to me, or I need to go tell the school counselor that you may harm yourself because we’re at school right now.”

So it’s a very simple technique to have these everyday conversations to then think about, “oh, I’m seeing repeated behavior, somebody really is struggling, it’s just more than a bad day.” They need support. And then how can I be that support mechanism and refer them on to get the real needs taken care of?

SHERYL:    So it’s “Validate and Appreciate and Refer?” I actually had seen that. So, “appreciate” what does “appreciate” look like? 

LAUREN:    That’s really thanking them for coming to you. So, “hey, Sheryl, thank you so much for telling me that you are having a bad day, or that you are not feeling full of hope at the moment. What would you like me to do? Like, do we want to carry on talking? I really appreciate that you trust me with coming to me as a good friend and sharing that you’re not having a great time or that you need more support.” 

It’s really using these really shorter sentences to say, “Hey, thanks for telling me that. I appreciate that you trusted me as your friend or as your peer to come with this pretty heavy stuff.”

And then that’s where the referral comes into them, being able to say, “Okay, is this something that needs to be referred on? Are they actually going to harm themselves? Or are they just having a bad day, and they just needed to vent?” 

It can be a variety of different things, but appreciating that somebody came to you, and using your “if statements” and sort of repeating back and asking questions to get to a little bit more about why they may be feeling that way. What they may think they need, so you’re not just going on and referring or asking them like, “what do you think you need right now?” That’s a really big part of an everyday conversation about mental health.

SHERYL:    This is so helpful. I want the listeners to hear. I want them to hear you specifically explain that because this starts in our homes, to be able to do this with our kids. And to be able to listen. I think we underestimate how important listening and validating feeling is.

And there’s a video you have on your site that was so good about “it’s okay to not be okay.” And yet what I see as a mom myself is my kid comes to me, and they share a struggle they’re having, and that’s hard to hear. And we want the best for our kids. And what we often end up doing is we give advice, we tell them what they need to do to feel better. Versus first, just really listening, validating, appreciating, like, “Thank you for telling me that’s so powerful,” because you’re creating a safe place for them to talk about it.

LAUREN:    Absolutely. I think that you’re right. I think we do get so in the day-to-day, and families are busy. You are all very busy. There’s just a lot going on, and especially when you think about a middle schooler, puberty is happening. There are a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions, and there are a lot of ups and downs but taking a pause and allowing the young person to feel all the things and not be solution-focused all the time, not trying to just fix it. 

Some things just need to be vented out. That video we recorded right at the beginning of the pandemic because we knew that students were now going to have a whole different world hauled in front of them in the sense that they weren’t going to be seeing their peers on the day-to-day. They weren’t going to be seeing their favorite educators. They were going to be isolated at home. 

It was okay just to have all of those feelings and sit with them because the world was a different place. And I think “VAR” is very powerful for parents and caregivers because it provides you with a reminder to pause and just listen.

SHERYL:    Yes, “V A R.” Validate, Appreciate and Refer, and how to be able to do that, and it goes into the steps.

LAUREN:    Yes, absolutely. There’s a lovely video on our website that you can look at. We also do VAR training. We have incorporated our VAR program into our high school’s pure-powered mental health curriculum. And so, there are a lot of different ways you can learn how to use VAR.

SHERYL:    I was really surprised to see some of the statistics that you had on the site, and one that really struck me was that it was 65 or 67% of young adults tell a friend that they are feeling suicidal before anyone else. I know that my kids have had their own struggles, but they’ve had friends that have struggled.

A friend has come to them and said that they are having suicidal thoughts and that maybe they self-harmed, and then my kids come to me like, “I don’t know what to do with this information.” 

What would you say? Because get that a lot from parents, “my, my kid’s best friend just told them that they’re having suicidal thoughts. And they’re thinking, maybe they’ve done some self-harming. What should I do?” 

What would you say? What would you say to the parent or caregiver that has a kid that’s experienced this? Or what would you say to a teen that has had this happen with a friend?

LAUREN:    So, a really great question. I think if a young person has gone to a parent or caregiver and disclosed that a friend is in need, I think one of the best ways is to sort of use the VAR tool to have that conversation. 

So validating that they came to you, appreciating that they’re trusting you for more support. And then, you can mirror using the VAR tool or conversation technique to empower them to go back to their friend and say, “Thank you, again, for sharing this with me, I think you may need some extra support. Have you thought about us talking to the school counselor, or have you told your mom or your dad or whoever the adult is in your family life that you are comfortable going to?” 

I think asking them and empowering the young person to go back to their friend, I think as an adult, you don’t want to, obviously, if they’re about to harm themselves, you need to intervene and ensure that that young person isn’t going to harm themselves in a way that could end up with them dying by suicide.

That’s not what we want. So if you have to go on and refer or contact a parent and ensure that they’re getting the resources and supports that they need, absolutely do that. But I think if there’s an opportunity to empower the young person to go back to that friend or peer to do the same thing, that’s also pretty powerful. And so I think you have to take it on a sort of case by case basis, depending on sort of the severity of what is happening with their friend, and navigate it that way. 

SHERYL:    I have this great idea as we’re talking. I’m going to share the notes. I’ll share that link to VAR because I think that would be a great tool for parents or caregivers to print out and even share with their kids and to be able to say, “Hey, if you’re having a bad day, and I’m not doing this, I call me out on it. If I’m not validating and I’m jumping into that, fix that role. Let me know because I want to be a better listener to how you’re feeling totally.” 

LAUREN:    We have a resource on how to help a friend because I think you’re right. We tend to go and tell our peers things before we go and tell our families things that I think are just our nature. When we think about how we were founded and why we’ve been around, and why we’ve been successful in that peer-to-peer approach, we know that young people are talking to each other, and so that we are able to really equip them with the tools and resources so that when appear does come to them, they know what to do. 

Because with teenagers, we know that if a parent tells us, “hey, so you should go and do this.” Sometimes that doesn’t matter. I’m not saying it does not happen. But, when we hear it from our peers, it sounds different. It comes with a little bit of a different sense of urgency. Maybe that, “hey, I care about you. I’m not a family member, but I really want you to get the support you need.” 

That means a lot to our students because they are sharing a lot with each other, they also spend 85% of their days with each other in a school building, so just by that nature, they are with each other sharing a lot more than they are potential with family members.

SHERYL:    Yeah. And on social media, too, after school hours.

LAUREN:    Yeah, I mean, they’re connecting with each other in a variety of different ways. So they’re constantly connected to each other sharing a lot of different things. So the more we can have these conversations about mental health, be able to understand what mental health is and what the difference is between mental health versus a mental illness or a mental health crisis. So that folks are able to support their peers on the different levels, that’s really important.

SHERYL:    So explain that to us. So how do parents discern? I’m just going to use parents but caregivers also. How do they discern if it is just a bad day versus if their kid is in a mental health crisis?

LAUREN:    Not all signs are universal. I think just being able to ensure that folks know that it’s not this one size fits all. We all have different journeys, and through our mental health, if it gets to the point of mental illness, it can be a variety of different things. 

I think the thing to really ensure that folks know, is that the patterns that they are seeing, or the behaviors that they’re seeing from a young person, or another family, friend, or member, or a friend, is that it’s repeated, it’s happening over a number of several days.  

So say a young person is totally withdrawing from their friends and their family and the activities that they used to enjoy doing for an extended period of time, that could be a sign that to say, “hey, something is not going well, we need to check-in.” It’s not to say that a student’s like, “I just don’t want to do this.” And it’s a 24-hour thing, but it’s the repeated nights over an extended period of time where you’re seeing a bit pretty drastic change in behavior or sleeping or eating habits.

Sometimes it can come out as anger or rage. Now, I say that, and I put a little start, especially knowing when puberty is also in the mix. I think that’s why you need to ensure that if it’s been more than a few days versus just, you’re happy one minute and sad, one minute in the same hour because that’s what happens when you’re going through puberty. It’s this extension of those feeling anger or rage kinds of things or just being tired all the time.

SHERYL:    Yeah, so a shift in behavior, when you’re really starting to see this pattern thing in your gut. Something’s amiss.

LAUREN:    Yeah. And also paying attention to some statements that somebody is saying, like, “it’s just so hard to get out of bed lately. I just want to sleep or never wake up just. Everything just feels too much. There’s just too much going on. I can’t do it.” So paying attention to those kinds of statements can also indicate that somebody needs some help.

SHERYL:    Okay, that’s very helpful. So, coming out of COVID – we’re still not out of it, and kids have really suffered going through that. What are you seeing? What did you see pre-COVID, and what are you seeing now? I’m hearing from so many parents that their kids are struggling. And then even they feel like the schools are overloaded. And that there are limited resources, is that true?

LAUREN:    There are it feels like that because I think the media has latched on to the fact that, “oh, we need to talk about mental health during this pandemic,” and rightfully so. So it does feel like there aren’t enough resources. And in some communities, there are not enough resources. 

We know that most of our school systems don’t have enough school counselors or school psychologists, or school social workers in the buildings to support their schools. And so, using school counselors as an example, the students to school counselor ratio should be 250 students to one school counselor. That’s not happening in schools. We’re having school counselors have a student workload of anywhere from 400 to 700 students.

How does a school counselor make a dent or make a change in 700 students’ lives? Some students are going to just fall through the cracks because there just isn’t enough people power from a school counseling side of things to support students. 

When we think about resources, we have to think about what kinds of school mental health teams are in a district and in a school building. Nine times out of 10, not enough people. What kinds of resources are in schools? 

So, in a health education class, we shouldn’t just be talking about suicidal mental health, like one class period out of the year, and not every single student is required to have health education, right? It’s like you take it one semester of all four years of high school. We don’t even teach health in middle school. So, where are those students learning about these things? 

We don’t even have a good spot in our schools, in our curriculum, to actually talk about mental health. A lot of times, our school counselors use advisory periods that may be anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to talk about mental health. That’s not enough time. How can you continue having a conversation or actually change the conversation with only 20 or 40 minutes on your schedule? 

So when we think about resources, we have to think about them in a variety of different ways. And like I said, some schools have received a lot of the care dollars through the federal government and through the state government through the pandemic, and they’re repurposing a lot of those funds to support mental health. But the question I think a lot of districts are facing is how do we sustain that when the funding goes away, especially during the pandemic? 

How are we going to continue to ensure that our families and our students are educated and have the resources and support that they need around mental health? And that’s a big question that I don’t know the answer to. I think a lot of people are trying to figure it out because we can’t just slap a bandaid on this. It can’t just be like, “Oh, we’re doing something during a pandemic, cool.” This has to be an ongoing thing. 

And schools can definitely use a lot more resources. I think that’s where an organization like Active Minds can be helpful in really empowering students to have conversations about mental health and saying, “Okay, we know there are gaps. How do you advocate for more resources?” 

There’s a lot of power also in partnering with local public health agencies and other nonprofits in your local communities that are working in adolescent health to support your school and mental health as a whole. And so I think we need to start doing a lot. And I think some schools are doing a better job, but we need to partner with those entities to help fill those gaps as well.

SHERYL:    So I want you just to tell me about some of the things that you’re doing in Active Minds because when I was looking at how much you’ve grown, I was looking at the staff, I was looking at all the dots on the map of where you’re going and what you’re up to and the kids that are involved. I want our listeners to know all about this.

LAUREN:    When Alison started Active Minds, she started with something called Active Minds chapters, which are student-led mental health clubs, essentially, in your school. And so students can start a mental health club or an Active Minds chapter by just having at least three students and an advisor who is equally as passionate about mental health start your chapter. 

The chapter is designed where students are going to build different Topic Areas. At a high school, they can use our peer-powered mental health curriculum as the programming guide. So we have things like, “no need to be perfect.” We know that perfectionism is a hot topic, and we know that young people have a lot of peer pressure around perfectionism. And so we have this curriculum that is youth facilitated, where they can have a conversation about topics like coping skills, time management, perfectionism, or how to help a friend. 

The VAR is also part of the curriculum. And so you can use the curriculum in a chapter as a chapter programming. So it’s after school or during an activity period. Or that you can build any programming through your chapter. So some chapters have done, like mental health awareness days, they’ve also done fundraising around mental health awareness. So they’re lots of different things that chapters can do. 

And then, on the K through 12 sides, I mentioned the Mental Health Advocacy Academy, which really provides tools and resources to high school students to become mental health champions and advocates in their schools. 

We do a lot of leadership development within our programs. We also have a speaker’s bureau. And so, if you are interested in bringing a speaker to your school, or to a PTA meeting, or a community event, we have a variety of folks that will share their lived experience about mental health. And it’s really a great opportunity to learn about mental health in a sort of non-threatening manner from a non-clinical manner. It’s just a normal everyday conversation and story about somebody’s mental health experience. 

And then, we also have something called Send Silence Packing, which is a traveling suicide prevention exhibit, that schools and universities can bring to the exhibit. And then we can build some curriculum around that, where you can walk through the exhibit and read some people’s stories. And then, you can use the curriculum to have a follow-up conversation, design, bring in a speaker, or do something else to complement the display. 

So we’re constantly thinking of new things. I mentioned Middle School. We are building a chapter program for middle schools as well, which we’re really excited about. And then, we also have opportunities for parents and caregivers and adult stakeholders.

How can we equip adults with the resources and tools to create a seat at the table for young people to be mental health advocates? How do we provide adults with the tools and resources to carry the conversation on at home? Your students learned something in school or participated in the Active Minds chapter meeting, or utilized the curriculum? How can we continue talking about mental health in school? And so, we’re building an adult curriculum to complement our student curriculum, which is exciting.

SHERYL:    Did you hear that, listeners? I’m so excited that you’re doing that because they can be learning it. But if we’re not learning it, nobody taught us this stuff. And we can learn it right along with our kids and be having the conversation.

LAUREN:    Yeah, it’s pretty powerful. I mean, this generation of students doesn’t shy away from talking about these things. I think we, as adults, just didn’t have the opportunity. It wasn’t normalized when we were in school or in our communities. And so, it’s pretty powerful to think about if we’re speaking the same language, and if we’re really normalizing a conversation about mental health, that’s awesome. 

We’re not going to have students feeling shame if they’re coming to their parents or family member or a friend and saying, I need help. We are able then to empower people to come and seek support when they need it and talk about it. Because the more we talk about it, we can just say, “hey, it’s out there. We all have mental health, and it’s okay when we just don’t have a bad day.” And we know how to get the support that we need.

SHERYL:    That’s key that we know how to get the support that we need, that we can actually share how we’re feeling and think about what our next steps are and what we really need, no matter if it’s a bad day or we’re going through something really, really tough, and we need that extra support.

LAUREN:    Absolutely. And I think, if anything, COVID-19 showed us that we couldn’t ignore our mental health. We all have experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows over the last three years, and we know that this pandemic has exasperated both adult mental health as well as student mental health. And so it’s great that we’re talking about it, that the news is talking about it. We just need to continue to provide more support and resources to everybody in our community so that they know where to go. We’re also funding more because I think that the other piece is, in some communities, they’re just limited resources and limited places for families are students to go to. And schools are where a lot of our students start getting support for mental health or just health in general. And so we need to really ensure that we have the right things in place and the right people in our schools to support our young people.

SHERYL:    Yeah, how empowering for kids to be able to reach out to their peers. And again, it’s that “I’m not alone,” and also kids who have struggled with their own mental health, to be able to, for lack of a better word, serve in that way, where they can reach out to other kids. How empowering that is to be able to know that they can make a difference, and they get it. They understand what that feels like, and when you understand what it feels like, you can make a difference with what that is with mental health and helping others. I just love it. 

LAUREN:    Yeah, it’s pretty powerful. 

SHERYL:    I am really excited. I’m like, “Are there any in Chicago? Are there any in Illinois?” 

LAUREN:    Yeah, there are. I think we are growing in that state because one of our academy students is from the south side of Chicago and is very active. And so there’s a lot of desire to spread the wealth. And, so that leads me if you are in a school or a community that does not have an Active Minds chapter, and you want to learn about Active Minds, we’re actually hosting an open house on September 8. 

And so we’re going to be previewing. I gave you high levels here. But we’ll be previewing all of our programs during a zoom open house for folks to come and learn about Active Minds. And then about all of the different programs that we are offering. And so that will be on September 8 at 5 pm Eastern.

SHERYL:    I’d love to. I can send it to all my community and let them know about it. So I know what some of the listeners are already thinking. And this is something I get a lot, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this. “I don’t understand why kids are having so many mental health issues today. When we were growing up, this wasn’t the case. And so now there are so many kids that are having this, and why are all these kids having these mental health issues?” 

And you and I get that. I want there to be an understanding and compassion for what kids are going through. So what do you think are some of those pressures they feel? What is their world like today that’s hard for parents and the older generation to understand?

LAUREN:    Yeah, I think I sort of alluded to this, that our youth and young adults have the language to really articulate what they’re feeling and going through. And that’s very different. So there’s a difference between anxiety and stress. And they know what those differences are. And they’re saying, I’m stressed, I’m anxious about these things. And this is sort of part of our mission. Like, changing that culture in conversation is learning those terms and understanding what they are and then talking about it.

Saying, “Look, I need help, I’m anxious. I’m really stressed out,” whatever the case is. I think our language has shifted, and so our students know what they’re talking about. They also advocate for themselves in ways that we’ve never seen. In the sense that they know exactly how they’re thinking and feeling, and there’s a lot of pressure. 

We’ve placed a lot on academic achievement. But if we can’t, if our students aren’t going to be academically sound if they’re not healthy. And so we have to think about what we are putting on our young people. The world around them is just a different place

There’s a lot more accessibility to the instant news messages that are coming through and the doom and gloom that the world as a whole has been faced with over the last few years. That takes a toll on everybody. It takes a toll on you and me. And so when we also think about that, from where they are developmentally and how they’re processing everything in the world, they’re asking more questions, they’re advocating for themselves, and they want us to normalize the conversations with them. And so I think it’s this combination. 

So I think we have to, as adults, embrace that it can be scary for ourselves. Because if we’ve never had the conversation about our own mental health, let alone just mental health in general, we’re going to be ill-equipped to support our young people. And so we’re hoping that’s where our adult workshops and our adult curriculum are having so many mental health issues today are really going to play a role in supporting parents and caregivers in this. 

I think the other thing to think about is that we’ve been asking high school students about their mental health at a national level for many, many years. And so, school health and wellness professionals have been very clued into the fact that high school students, in particular, have been navigating struggles with mental health and an uptick of those struggles over the last ten years. 

So it hasn’t been surprising to school mental health champions that this is where we are with navigating Youth Mental Health because they have seen over the course of 10 years that there’s been this uptick. And it’s been an uptick because we’re talking about it because students have the language. And, we’ve de-stigmatized a lot around mental health, which is great. 

I think the pandemic put a big spotlight on things, and now everyone’s talking about it and talking about, “oh, we’re at a mental health crisis.” Yes, we are. However, we’ve been slowly seeing this uptick. And so from a parent or community partner, they’re like, “We got to do something now in schools, doing things and trying to chip away at this over many, many years.” 

And it really takes a village, and I’m like, “Welcome, our world now. Thank you for joining us because we need more support. We need more people talking about this. We need more people normalizing these conversations. And we need more resources within our communities so that we can provide more support mechanisms, both to young people and adults.”

SHERYL:    Yeah, we sure do. And what a beautiful bridge Active Minds provides. On so many different levels.

LAUREN:    Yeah. And I think it’s accessible. I think when people think about mental health, and they think about suicide, it’s like, we have to whisper or, we can’t talk about it. But no, we know that young people are dying at high rates from suicide. We know that one in five high school students has contemplated suicide during the pandemic, so we have to sit with those numbers and the reality of what our young people are facing. We can’t ignore it anymore. We have to talk about it. We have to be out there really advocating for young people and with them to make this world a lot easier for them to live in.

SHERYL:    Yeah, as you’re saying, all that when, as a mom, when I would get scared about something, how my kids doing or they’re anxious, or they’re depressed, being bullied, all those different things that they can go through. I think that the knee-jerk reaction is to ask why, which is a judgmental word. 

But when we say “why,” we’re going to come in with that judgmental energy of this. It shouldn’t be this way. Versus what? So given the information that kids are struggling with mental health, what are we going to do now to support them and come along alongside them, and provide what they need to continue to have a conversation and not be alone and get whatever resources they need? 

LAUREN:    I think the one thing that we have to remember is mental health is not a single issue thing.

SHERYL:    Mental health isn’t bad.  

LAUREN:    Mental health is just mental health. So when we think about what affects our mental health, there are lots of contributing factors. We can’t just put mental health in a small box by itself. We know that our mental health is affected because we are experiencing climate change. Our mental health is affected because somebody may have lost their house due to a wildfire. 

And all of a sudden, they are experiencing homelessness; our mental health is affected by racism, homophobia, and so many different things that impact a person’s mental health. And I think that the other generational thing that may come into play is that some folks just think about it as a singular box on its own. All these contributing factors are why young people have the weight of the world on their shoulders they care about their communities, they care about the environment, and they care about doing the right thing for their communities and their peers. And that affects their mental health.

SHERYL:    I was just thinking so many things when the kids were talking on that video about prom. There’s grief involved. They missed their prom, they missed their graduation, or maybe they saw that they got left out of social media. They see that friends got together, and they weren’t included. And that can cause this whole litany of self-doubt. “I don’t fit in, and I don’t belong.” It comes in so many different shapes and sizes, but we don’t want to minimize it. 

LAUREN:    I think when we switched to a more hybrid platform at the beginning of COVID, and a lot of those senior students did miss out on milestones, those big milestones in high school, that sucked for them. That was awful. And as adults, we know their experience of those milestones. It’s a big deal. And so we can’t be dismissive. Because it’s a hard thing to navigate when they weren’t able to be with their peers, they weren’t able to have the prom that they had thought about. 

I think we have to take a step back when our youth are feeling this way. And, and as you said, what, what is going on, tell us a little bit more about how you got to feel this way. And if it is just having a bad day, it’s okay. Allow yourself to take a pause. What does that look like to give yourself an opportunity to engage in some self-care? Go listen to some music, journal, and find what works for you to allow you to take a step back, take a breath, and reset in the best way you can so that you can continue moving forward because it’s important to take a beat and take care of yourself along the way.

SHERYL:    And you have a great section on that on the website, the self-care. It was helpful to me to read those things because we can join our kids in those things as well and model them for them.

LAUREN:    Yeah, exactly. That’s where it also may come from, they may not be experiencing their own trauma, but they may see you experienced trauma or stress or anxiety. So maybe that’s how they’re affected as well. 

I think this is why we keep saying that we all have mental health, and we have to really ensure that we’re taking care of ourselves. We go for physicals on an annual basis we take care of our physical health, but what we do to intentionally take care of our mental health – I think all of us, me included, even though I work here at Active Minds – can do a better job of taking care of my mental health. Because it sometimes gets pushed down the list of things I need to be doing. I should pop in some headphones and listen to some music and just reset. And that’s a good thing for me. I know what works for me. So find what works for you.

SHERYL:    Yeah, I love that. So we could go on and talk. I was looking at the time. But I want you just to touch briefly, and I don’t even know if you can do it briefly. But transitioning to college that’s a big deal. 

Can you give maybe one little tip to parents or caregivers as kids are getting ready to go off to college? As like you mentioned in the very beginning, that can be a really stressful, hard time.

LAUREN:    Yeah, absolutely. So, when you are looking at schools, and if you go on a college tour, or if you’re like looking at a university’s website, one of the things you should pay attention to is what counseling services the university or college has. Do they have a counseling center? What kinds of resources and counselors do they have in that counseling center? Do they have an Active Minds chapter? That’s an important piece. So counseling center, but then do they have an Active Minds chapter?

 Do they have an organization where you can join and talk about mental health or advocate for mental health awareness or mental health resources in your school? I think when you’re also thinking about if you’re going to a residential campus and thinking about what real life looks like. I’m going to be living in a residence hall. What kinds of programs and activities are going to be available for me? How can I build a sense of community outside of an Active Minds Chapter through experiences through Residence Life and other student life opportunities?

When we go to college, it’s very different. And for some of our students, it can be extremely overwhelming because, number one, there’s a lot more freedom in the sense that you pick your own schedule, and it’s not like a normal eight to five. You have a lot of flexibility, you get to come and go, and you get to opt into activities. 

I think ensuring where the Counseling Center is and exactly where to go when you need support is key. Number two, I think folks are so fixated on where I am going to live. And what is the dining hall situation, and what classes do you have available? This is all very important, but make sure that they have the resources around mental health to support you.

SHERYL:    Wonderful, thank you for that. Very important to remember and to look into. So Lauren, thank you so much. Tell everybody where to find you. Active Minds, anything else that you think is important? And that’s September 8, the open house? 

LAUREN:    So if you go to activeminds.org, you can sign up for our newsletter, which I really suggest you do, because you’ll hear first about new programs and resources. I will definitely drop the link in about the open house so you can sign up for the open house coming up. 

But if your school or anybody in the community wants to find more information, you can certainly ping us through our website at any time. And then we’re all over social media. So check us out, especially if you want to share that information with your young person. I’m on TikTok and Instagram, so we’re fully out there. So let us know how we can support you.

SHERYL:    Yeah, TikTok is really important, isn’t it?

LAUREN:    It really is. Snapchat as well. So we’re on all of the social media platforms. And it’s fun in the sense that we have platforms for more of the adult population and then for our youth as well to engage in just learning and figuring out mental health.

SHERYL:    Yeah, well, Lauren, thank you for all that you’re doing. And I so appreciate you coming to the show.

LAUREN:    Yeah. Thanks for having me. Sheryl.

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