The first episode of KET’s series on youth mental health, You Are Not Alone, is “Youth Speak Out.” We hear from a focus group of Kentucky teens and learn about three initiatives young people have started to help their peers address mental health symptoms.
This program is part of KET’s Inside Youth Mental Health initiative, funded in part by grants from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Kentucky Department of Education.
Youth Focus Group
Six Kentucky teenagers and young adults speak about their experiences at Frazier History Museum in Louisville. They candidly share their personal stories and offer differing opinions on what types of therapy and support worked best to help them achieve mental wellness.
“I think what I most want from anyone is to be told, ‘It’s up to me to fix my own problems,’” says Shawn from Pleasureville, “rather than leaving it up to chance. Because, as brutal as it may sound, that’s what I and some other people may need.”
“I have a completely different perspective,” says Trevor from Louisville. “What I want is my parents to notice I’m struggling with something, and just kind of let me do my thing, but have precautions in case I go down worse. Because I’ve heard, ‘It’s okay, we love you, we’re here for you,’ so much that I’ve gone numb to it.”
“I think one of the best things parents can do, especially when they find that their kid is struggling, is just to ask how they can help,” says Allison from Louisville. She adds, “Because everyone processes their mental health differently, and everyone needs different things.”
Allison Tu, a student at Louisville’s Manual High School who participated in the Frazier forum, started StAMINA (Student Alliance for Mental Health Innovation and Action) after she was motivated to take action to help her fellow students, several of whom were struggling with mental health issues. StAMINA uses a three-pronged strategy to address mental health along the guidelines of Learn, Build, and Act: 1) a qualitative needs assessment 2) a youth summit and 3) a plan for action and advocacy.
“We realize that everyone has some sort of stigma when it comes to mental health,” says StAMINA researcher Tanner Pruitt. “So, the first step is to break that down and get people comfortable talking about it. Once we do that, we can change the conversation from one of stigma and one of people not wanting to talk about it at all, to people being comfortable talking about it, and that will really spread…. It’s a chain reaction.”
Transition Age Youth Launching Realized Dreams (TAYLRD) is an organization that aims to help improve the lives of Kentucky’s youth ages 16-25 who have, or are at risk of developing, behavioral health challenges. The program provides access to high-quality support services across the state, and has drop-in centers in Morehead, Ashland, Louisville, and Taylorsville, among other cities.
A key component of TAYLRD is its group of Peer Support Specialists – young people who have “been there” and are able to offer dedicated support and guidance. “Being able to have access to peers is just so powerful, because it makes you feel less alone,” says Stephanie Sikes, state level youth coordinator with TAYLRD. “You see people who are cool, and you’re encouraged to make friendships with them, and make relationships with them, and you’re empowering each other to have real talks about what’s actually going on in your lives, and you’re overcoming it together. There’s just no comparing that to anything else.”
Not OK App
At age 15, Hannah Lucas developed a medical condition that caused her to faint without warning. She experienced bullying at her school in Georgia because of her condition, and spiraled into depression and attempted suicide. Hannah and her younger brother Charlie developed the Not OK app, an innovative digital panic button for persons with mental health challenges that works as an app for smart phones. The app enables persons to contact a pre-selected list of five trusted contacts at any time.
Hannah says that the app is growing in popularity and that people have thanked her on social media for bringing mental health issues to the forefront and devising a helpful aid. “People are saying, ‘Thank you for making this app, thank you for sharing this story. Because you and your brother shared your story, I now know that I’m not alone.’”