Feb. 8, 2023 -- As mental health issues rise among teens and college students, this week's first-ever global Student Mental Health Week couldn't be better timed.
The urgency is quite apparent. A recent study showed that nearly one-third of students worldwide said their mental health has worsened since returning to campus following the COVID-19 lockdowns.
With suicide rates on the rise, this campaign, established by five youth-focused nonprofits including Born This Way Foundation launched by Lady Gaga, the Inspiring Children Foundation co-chaired by singer-songwriter Jewel, The Jed Foundation, and Chegg, an education-technology, wants to draw attention to the issue.
“Even before the pandemic, we've seen increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide deaths among students,” says Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, chief medical officer at The Jed Foundation, which protects emotional health and works to prevent suicide among teens and young adults. “Young people are exposed constantly to wars around the world, the social and political unrest in our country and the climate crisis -- things that adults never were when they were teenagers. I don't think we recognize how much they're dealing with.”
All week, social media live events will aim to help educate policymakers, educational institutions, and communities on the mental health challenges students are facing. Another goal is to urge students around the world to develop call-to-action plans with their legislators, all with the goal of boosting mental health support.
“The previous generation overlooked mental health issues, which created a culture where there was so much shame around not feeling comfortable in your own head,” says Matine Khalighi, a sophomore at Harvard University and executive director and founder of EEqual, a for-youth-by-youth nonprofit focused on overcoming student homelessness. “There's now a new wave of being open about mental health challenges. Creating a space where we can talk about this makes us feel less alone.”
Cherrial Odell, a Stanford University sophomore who survived suicide and an adverse childhood, serves on the boards of both the Born This Way Foundation and the Inspiring Children Foundation. For Odell, this week is critically important.
“We all have mental health concerns,” says Odell, who this week, as president of the student-run Stanford Mental Health Outreach group, is hosting daily events on the Stanford campus. “The beauty of our generation is that we're a lot more open about talking about these issues. That's a beautiful thing. After all, opening up and sharing your story is a strength, not a weakness. It shows you have the courage to share what you're going through.”
Ultimately, Erickson-Schroth hopes that the week informs adults, too.
“It's so important for the adults in young peoples' lives to recognize the signs that a young person is going through something that is causing stress and anxiety,” she says. “It's also important for parents to feel like they have the resources to provide that help.”
Neal Horen, PhD, director of the early childhood division at the Center for Child and Human Development and the director of the HOYA clinic in the Department of Psychiatry at Georgetown University, hopes this week helps focus more attention on the potential pitfalls students may face at this major developmental phase of their lives.
“Going to college can be amazing or it can be an arduous trek if we're not paying attention,” he says. “This is a major time of identify formation with kids asking themselves 'who am I,' 'where do I fit in.' That plus the immediate independence they may experience living away from home is a big demand to put on someone and can lead to mental health challenges we have to pay attention to.”
For more information, visit the Student Mental Health Week page.