We want to share an update on Text, Talk, Act – the youth mental health conversation initiative launched in 2013 by NCDD-supported Creating Community Solutions – that we saw on NCDD organizational member the Public Conversations Project‘s blog. They featured a piece by Nancy Goodman reflecting on the what was discussed in the TTA conversation she facilitated with high school teens, and it gives a great glimpse into how TTA works and how powerful these dialogues are.
Teens Talk Mental Health
I am a transition coordinator at Gloucester High School and a Public Conversations training alumni. In May, I facilitated a group of students coming together to discuss the stigmas around conversations about mental health as part of the nation-wide “Text, Talk, Act” campaign, of which Public Conversations Project was a partner. The conversation was deeply personal, but also indicative of the more broadly felt silence we as a society hold around this topic. Here are some of the questions and ideas we explored together.
Why is mental health a hard topic to talk about?
The students’ answers included, “You can’t see it – compared to physical illness,” “We’re under so much pressure to be perfect, to be acting as if we’re coping well,” and “There’s such a stigma associated with mental stuff.”
How closely has mental illness affected you?
Three of the six students described experiencing some depression or anxiety; one of them had tried to commit suicide last winter. I was taken aback by this revelation and grappled with how to respond. I asked whether others in the group had been aware of her struggle. Some reported having had a sense that something was wrong and others had not known. The students took her announcement in stride, and it did not become a focal point of our conversation. One described struggling with PTSD and OCD. Another has siblings with autism and Asperger’s. Two reported that they have not had close contact with mental illness.
What has been helpful and not so helpful?
Students reported that the school psychologists are sometimes helpful and sometimes not helpful, that drama club has been a “lifesaver,” and that medication has been helpful. One girl reported that, even though she resisted her at first, she now loves her therapist a lot. One of the girls who described herself as generally upbeat said that something that is not helpful is people coming up to her and asking if she’s ok just “because I’m not all smiley and happy that day.” Another student said, “I am only close to two friends. Sometimes I wish other people would reach out and invite me to hang out.”
What’s the definition of mental health?
- No one is 100% healthy.
- It’s liking who you are as a person.
- It’s about eating well and staying active.
- It’s being able to ask for what you need.
What do you want to/are you willing to do next?
Although students liked the idea of talking more, they felt strongly that they didn’t want to become “spokespeople” for mental health. They felt they would be too vulnerable to the ignorant reactions from certain students. The two drama club students expressed interest in going through a similar set of questions within the drama club.
As the group facilitator, there are two impressions from the conversation I’d like to share. First, with all the work that has been done to empower young women, several of these girls undermined their own comments by giggling after they made a point or shared something personal. Beyond nervous laughter, this behavior betrayed a real discomfort with their own stories, not just the difficult topic at hand.
My second impression is that, as a society, we’ve chosen to medicate our children rather than to relieve the conditions that are contributing to their mental illnesses.
Overall I was thrilled to be part of this authentic conversation about a topic of real concern to these students.
You can find the original version of this Public Conversations Project blog post at www.publicconversations.org/blog/teens-talk-mental-health#sthash.q8gyIMri.dpuf.