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International Youth Day: How Youth Can Combat the Stigma of Mental Health

Image of the International Youth Day Infographic that contains the statistic: 20 percent of the world's youth experience a mentaBy Patricia Kingkeo, Anti-trafficking Health Policy Intern

Fifteen years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared August 12th International Youth Day to raise awareness on issues affecting youth worldwide and to celebrate the role of younger generations as essential partners in change. This year, our celebration focuses on the theme of, “Youth and Mental Health” under a simple yet powerful slogan — “Mental Health Matters.”

Mental Health Matters
Approximately 20 percent of the world’s youth experience a mental health condition every year. Youth with mental health conditions can often experience stigma and discrimination, preventing many who need help from seeking treatment for fear of social exclusion. Mental health issues in youth can reduce the likelihood of an individual graduating high school or college1, increase the risk of substance abuse dependency2, increase the risk of adolescent pregnancy3, and increase the risk of experiencing intimate partner violence4. Left untreated, trauma and mental health issues, can significantly impact an individual’s life. With suicide accounting for the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24 in the United States, it is critical to combat barriers to help seeking behavior.

Combatting the Stigma – My Story

I was diagnosed with severe depression at the age of 12. I continued to battle with depression and anxiety through middle school and high school without treatment, into early adulthood. During the time, I felt helpless in addressing my situation and was often suicidal. It wasn’t until college, that I was able to receive the help that I needed, and in turn, help others.

In college, I participated in a variety of mental health advocacy groups on campus. My freshman year, I joined a confidential peer-listening group called A Place to Talk that connected me to a network of peers who had been through similar struggles. Through APTT, I realized that I was not alone, and more importantly — that there were others who needed help too.

I joined Hopkins Speaks Up last semester, a new university initiative that encouraged individuals to speak about their own struggles to combat the stigma of mental health. When we launched our first trailer, we received a tremendous amount of support. Inspired by my peers, I spoke publicly for the first time about the circumstances and struggles surrounding my depression as a panelist at my school’s Active Minds event. I realized that with the ongoing positivity surrounding our efforts, we had successfully contributed to the dialogue on mental health and set a precedent for others to come forward and share their experiences.

Youth Voices Matter

In my experience, institutional support was necessary to combat the stigma against mental health by providing a platform for youth voices to be heard. It is critical to continue combatting the stigma of mental health. By being a vocal advocate for mental health, or a supporter of advocates, change can occur to dispel the fear and misunderstanding surrounding mental health issues, and encourage others to openly seek the services and support they need.

As we commemorate International Youth Day, it is also important to acknowledge the power of younger generations in affecting change. Youth voices are crucial in the process of creating sustained social change for our generation. Providing young advocates the tools, support, and guidance we need, can allow youth to implement their insights and bring about positive transformations.

Serving Youth

Research indicates that youth who have been in contact with social services are significantly more likely to have received mental health services. The Administration for Children and Families serves many youth populations that may experience a wide range of mental health conditions, including youth who have experienced abuse and neglect, homelessness, substance abuse, and human trafficking, young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or questioning, and those who may be separated from their parents or families.

As a Health Policy Intern at ACF, I’ve witnessed the organization’s dedication to the well-being of underserved and underrepresented populations in need. I’ve also been a part of concerted efforts to promote youth engagement and the integration of youth input within the ACF End Trafficking initiative. The Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services to Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States and other human trafficking prevention efforts, demonstrates ACF’s commitment to the integration of youth-informed and youth-friendly messages in human trafficking prevention education and awareness.

Ways to Get Involved

1. Kessler, R. C., Foster, C. L., Saunders, W. B., & Stang, P. E. (1995). Social consequences of psychiatric disorders, I: Educational attainment. American journal of psychiatry, 152(7), 1026-1032.
2. US Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of national findings. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


3. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P. A., Foster, C. L., Saunders, W. B., Stang, P. E., & Walters, E. E. (1997). Social consequences of psychiatric disorders, II: Teenage parenthood. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154(10), 1405-1411.

4. Friedman SH, Loue S. Incidence and prevalence of intimate partner violence by and against women with severe mental illness. J Womens Health (Larchmt). May 2007; 16(4):471-480.

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