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Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M–F, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. PT for free mental health info, referrals and support.

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We asked presenters for our Youth Symposium 2021, “What would you say is the biggest challenge we face working to improve youth and student mental health?” Here are their answers.

“The biggest challenge in improving student mental health is overcoming the stigma. Many youths are afraid to even reach out for help that others offer because of external pressures that think mental health is a bad thing.” —Isabelle L., allcove Youth Advisory Group (YAG)

“One of the biggest challenges we face when working to improve student mental health is breaking stigma. This is the barrier between people accessing resources and staying isolated. For example, some students hesitate when in need of support due to comparisons with the experiences of others that causes them to minimize their own experience. Society needs to normalize accessing resources with both minor and major mental health concerns and learn to validate whatever feelings a student might have. Moreover, this stigma has shifted across different generations, which can create a disconnect between parents and youth. Different cultures also have differences in how strong the stigma is and what is or isn’t acceptable. Overcoming all of these issues and creating an environment where all students are comfortable seeking mental health services is an ongoing challenge.” —Ria R., allcove Youth Advisory Group (YAG)

“I think the biggest challenge is the lack of education and awareness around mental health and well-being. Knowledge really is power and I believe having conversations around the topic of mental health will not only end the stigma surrounding it but will liberate people who are living with mental health conditions.” —Britt Turpack, NAMI Westside Los Angeles

“The most important thing we can do is talk about mental health and embrace our abilities to support ourselves and each other.” —Stan Collins, The Directing Change Program and Film Contest

“Student mental health can benefit greatly from increased collaboration between stakeholders. The perspectives of youth, young adults, caregivers, educators, organizations, elected officials, and community members all have potential value. Those working in student mental health must actively involve these perspectives in both identifying concerns and implementing solutions.” —Evanne Torrecillas, Youth Programs Manager, NAMI Sacramento

“I think we face a broken mental health system and that came to light even more in 2020. We have issues with access to services for youth, especially in our rural communities.” —Yammilette “Yami” Rodriguez, Youth Leadership Institute

“Therapy and other forms of mental health care are incredibly expensive, posing a barrier to students from families with limited financial resources. The more financially accessible mental health care becomes, the more likely students will be to seek help and thrive from having a supportive environment outside of their family/friend circles.” —Anastasia Vlasova, South Lakes High School, This Is My Brave, Social Media Advocacy & Digital Wellness

“STIGMA. The stigma surrounding mental health is centuries old. We will not change minds quickly… but this generation WILL see a difference. The biggest challenge is for adults to get out of the way and let them go!” —Kym Barber, Stanislaus County Office of Education

“I think there is a significant lack of understanding between adults and youth when it comes to mental health. Many students and teenagers don’t feel as though they can trust the adults around them, and often for valid reasons. This is extremely challenging, as students cannot acquire help without reaching out to a parent or parental guardian to get the medicine they deserve. When there is a lack of rapport between teachers, parents, school counselors, and the students they’re supposed to connect with, students often never receive the help they need and this leads to a toxic cycle of lack of trust between the two groups.” —Crystal Widado, Glendora NCHS chapter leader