The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that half of adolescents in the country have experienced a mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), at some point in their lives. Many young people are treated to prevent these and other problems from getting worse and not becoming chronic, but not many more, which leads to problems that persist into adulthood and have serious consequences for both individuals and society.
The COVID-19 pandemic and a number of other social and economic pressures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have increased the incidence of mental health problems in adolescents. It’s time to talk about the issue and bring it to light, said Samantha Bertomen, a master’s degree in public health in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the Colorado School of Public Health.
“Young people are really suffering and their mental health problems are only growing,” Bertomen said. “We need to create awareness and destigmatize mental health.”
A digital campaign to shed light on young people’s mental health problems
Bertomen and Lisa Peters, who are seeking a master’s degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recently collaborated on a project to clarify the mental health problems facing young people, explain the importance of discussing and treating them, and give young people a platform to express their own experiences of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other problems.
The pair’s project recently competed with five other postgraduate public health schools and won the Student Health Edu-Thon Digital Competition for 2022, organized by the Society for Public Education (SOPHE). The challenge of creating a digital intervention to address the mental health of adolescents was met with a campaign called #MyMentalHealthMatters.
Bertomen said she and Peters initially discussed focusing on one mental health problem and developing an application to address it, but decided that a campaign with a “comprehensive approach” to mental health problems would be more persistent. Problems they focused on after the research included depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, eating disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, Bertomen said.
The campaign’s design is based on videos, podcasts, websites, social media and a school program to bring the mental health problems young people face from the shadows and to the forefront of public health and policy debates, Bertomen said. She and Peters targeted the campaign in Jefferson County, Colorado with the idea that it could be launched and tailored to the needs of other communities in Colorado and nationally.
Storytelling mental health interventions
The campaign uses an evidence-based approach to create an argument for digital intervention. Bertomen and Peters used census and National Mental Illness Census data to estimate the number of teens in Jefferson County at 113,000. Statistics suggest that about one in five will have a mental health problem, which means that about 22,000 teens in the county could benefit from education about their condition and services to treat it. Mental health prevention services provided through #MyMentalHealthMatters could save Jefferson County nearly $ 48 million in follow-up health and social services, Bertomen and Peters said.
Data collection and statistical analysis were essential to the campaign, but Bertomen said she and Peters believed it was vital that young people bring numbers to life with stories from their own experiences.
“We want to talk about mental health from a youth perspective,” Bertomen said. “Many times we have the idea that public health people are telling the community what we want them to do and what we think is necessary. In our campaign, we tried to use storytelling where young people will be in the forefront. “
Bertomen said the “main paradigm” the campaign uses for storytelling is the Public Health Reaching Across Sectors (PHRASES) study, which uses insights from four target audiences, interviews with public health experts and other resources. The study and the toolkit created from it state that “storytelling is one of the most effective forms of communication and is particularly suitable for public health communication”.
For the #MyMentalHealthMatters campaign, Bertomen and Peters present eight videos with young people from different demographics, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations talking about the specific mental health problem they face and how it affects them, the barriers they face in getting help, and allies they rely on to cope. The speakers will then present a “data-driven approach to methods of thriving with mental illness,” Bertomen said, discussing how these strategies have helped them. The final “call to action” with proposed resources to help encourage listeners to confront their problems and seek help, she added.
The campaign’s approach also includes weekly podcasts, a website that serves as a portal to a variety of resources, search engine optimization tracking for youth-seeking mental health information, and a hashtag that encourages people to share stories and experiences, Bertomen said.
Solving problems by listening
All these approaches consist not only in listening to the voices of young people in the community, but also in actively seeking their contributions, she added.
“It’s hard to build a relationship and community involvement,” she said. “As public health experts, we are constantly talking about it and it is crucial for the whole process. If we want to achieve something in this world as professionals, we really need to talk to people who are really experiencing these public health problems. ”
Bertomen acknowledged that implementing the #MyMentalHealthMatters campaign would require a lot of time, money and other resources. But she and Peters may have another opportunity to re-present their ideas at an online seminar this summer. At the very least, the more they both talk about their ideas, the more they can encourage their peers to discuss the challenges that mental health problems pose as freely as health diseases do.
“It’s very important to talk mentally openly,” Bertomen concluded. “It’s easier when the door is open.”
A story by Tyler Smith for the Colorado School of Public Health.
Colorado School of Public Health
Department of Community and Behavioral Health
Mental health and well-being program
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