Maya Smith is Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation.
There’s absolutely no question that the ideas, opinions, and voices of our young people are necessary to improve our mental healthcare system. That’s why Born This Way Foundation was so excited to partner with California’s Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) with the goal of incorporating the insights provided by California’s youth into innovations to improve mental health services in the state
In addition to working with the Benenson Strategy Group to survey more than 400 California youth ages 13 to 25, we also held four focus groups with young people of that same age range and were able to make multiple conclusions about how young people view their mental health, the type of relationship they have with mental health resources, and the sort of mental health innovations they would like to see in their state.
What we learned from our partnership with MHSOAC reinforced what we’ve been hearing from young people all along. Young people know the importance of maintaining their mental health and want to embrace it as a priority, they’re ready to combat the associated stigma that comes along with talking about their mental health, and they want to learn the necessary coping skills to deal with the stressors of their finances, school, and work life. However, they lack the necessary tools and support systems to do any of these things and desperately want their schools and communities to provide more accessible, affordable, and reliable mental health resource to help fill in the gaps.
Our research reported that one-third of youth in California say they “rarely” or “never” have access to resources to support their mental health, and over half said they don’t have the resources to deal with online harassment, bullying, sexual assault, or suicidal ideation. Just as concerning, almost half of all young people in California say they don’t know where to turn to get mental health resources, and more than a third of young people said that even if they did know where to look, the high cost of these services prevents them from actually using them.
As a California native, these statistics hit my heart hard. As a mother, these statistics hit my heart even harder. I want my children to know that they are supported at every step of the way. I want them to feel empowered to talk openly and honestly about their mental health. I want them to be equipped with the skills and strategies necessary to support their friends and family who may be struggling. I want them to know that they’re never alone, and I want them to know we’re listening.
To all the young people we had the privilege of talking to during the research we performed during this partnership: We hear you. We’re listening.
We hear you when you say you want more mental health resources; we hear you when you say you want your schools to have Mental Health First Aid trainings; we hear you when you say you want more POC and LGBTQ+ representation among your therapists, counselors, and the help you receive. And we hear you when you say you need more mental health support from the adults in your schools and communities.
With your feedback, MHSOAC will support the development and implementation of youth-focused innovation projects at the local and state level intended to create a positive change within California’s mental health system. These projects will embrace all the powerful stories we’ve heard from young people, incorporate their feedback about how the system can be improved, and ultimately reaffirm that their stories and insights are valued and appreciated. To all the young people that continue to provide us with their insights, stories, and voices: We hear you. We’re listening.