Health, including mental health, is wealth, and like wealth, it's not distributed equally. Mental health services are inaccessible for too many — especially teens and young adults facing lack of privilege, and who may be involved with juvenile justice or foster care. Paired with COVID-19 and the ensuing social isolation, it’s little wonder that rates of youth depression have skyrocketed. These issues cannot be ignored and must be addressed immediately.
Mental health conditions affect over 44 million Americans, according to Mental Health America's report, and it's particularly prevalent in Gen Z. Despite how many people face mental health concerns, society still assigns a stigma to those suffering and seeking help. And, in some cases, help is nearly impossible to find.
Stigmas exist for numerous reasons, including lack of funding, access and education. They can also result from cultural oppression — impacting minorities disproportionately — or due to a social climate that makes seeking care difficult. This is especially true in the wake of social inconsistencies, such as those experienced by people in the LGBTQIA+ community, where it can feel like the nation takes two steps forward then a giant leap back.
Youth will become the adults of tomorrow, and when they're left to suffer, society suffers with them. Crucial action is required to improve mental health and expand access to mental health services for teens and young adults, and this must start within the school system.
K-12 schools should expand access to mental health breaks — sometimes rest is needed to improve mental health, just as it's taken to recover from a cold. Curricula should be adapted to expand inclusion and diversity, empowering every student to know they matter, no matter who they are or what they look like. Perhaps one of the biggest ways to make a difference includes reducing the school-to-prison pipeline, caused by policies and practices that push students into the criminal justice system in response to behaviors at school. Behaviors that should be seen as cries for help are instead met with harsh punishment and further social ostracization.
The time to act is now. Supporting young people's mental health and well-being needs to be at the forefront of our minds, and it's up to us to instigate the change in policies.