B. Lyte, a spoken word artist and founder of Power To The Poetry, was elegant and creative in her approach to being the Master of Ceremonies for The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle’s Youth Mental Health Webinar – a virtual event that was held last Saturday.
“The possibilities are endless, the universe infinite, emerge from the shadows and be magnificent,” said Lyte as she opened the event. “Negative energy is not a friend to me. My life is not always good, and I don’t pretend it to be. My body is a vessel, conscience of what I put in me…I must tell the youth to believe in themselves. Nothing is more important than self-love.”
The words were not only well- received, but they were right on time as experts say that many teens are struggling with depression at alarming rates.
According to experts, depression in teens can be easily disguised or ignored by symptoms that are commonly associated with the teenage experience, like increased irritability, anxiety, mood disorders and low self-esteem, and 70% of youth believe anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers. But keeping your eyes open to the internal and external struggles of the young people in your life can help provide the necessary help and support to teens experiencing mental health challenges.
“[The purpose of the event was] to ensure that youth had an avenue to seek advice and ask questions about coping [with mental health and mental health issues],” says Lydia Nichols of Integrated Wellness, Washington state’s first minority, women-owned and operated independent care management organization. “Over 100 participants tuned in as we heard what young people say they need and discussed how systems that were already inequitable pre-pandemic require urgent attention.”
There are many things that can affect a teenager’s experience with a mental health disorder like depression. Stigmas, trauma and cultural ills can often affect a child’s journey through overcoming and well-being. Knowing about these obstacles or the possibility of these obstacles can help our community to create a safe space for them to address their challenges.
Rian Roberson, a licensed mental health counselor and panelist of the webinar, agrees that the most effective way of providing support for our most prized assets, our children, is making sure they feel safe enough to express and voice their mindset.
“I became a therapist in 2016 and the landscape has changed tremendously since I began,” says Roberson. “All the social stresses that we are currently in has impacted us all.”
“This has made it much more urgent for me to hone in on the people that are being impacted the most, especially our youth,” added Roberson.
Zeke Khali, a performance enhancement specialist and founder of The Healthy Hueman, who also was a featured panelist, echoed the idea of a safe environment for young people to express how they feel.
“This is revolutionary that we all showed up,” says Khali. “I hope to help youth find their voices and expressing things that are difficult. I hope to instill that finding happiness in being a healthy human whatever that may look like for them. I want to center the way that we create mental wellness strategies. I am trying to make it the new norm for everybody to be happy, again.”
According to Zyna Bakari, Public Health Program Manager for the Urban League, “The most important action you can take to support a teen in your life who is experiencing symptoms of depression is to be there for them. Listen without judging and help them access the youth-friendly mental healthcare services necessary to diagnose, treat and begin their recovery process.”
Tanzi Mowatt, a senior at Rainier Beach High School and president of the Black Student Union, was also a member of the panel. Mowatt believes that mental should not be taken lightly.
“Mental health is really not being taken seriously and it’s really a bummer,” says Mowatt.
Chukundi Salisbury Jr., a sophomore at Franklin High School, says that he had some difficulties navigating his emotions during the pandemic. In response, Salisbury and his friends created a mental health app for young teens that got the attention of the entrepreneur/investor TV show Shark Tank.
“I felt isolated,” says Salisbury, talking about his experience transitioning from junior high school into high school during the peak of the pandemic. “I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. And, that Shark Tank app was kind of like a relieving of emotions because my friends and I made the app because that is what we wanted for ourselves during the height of the pandemic in 2020.”
For Salisbury, overcoming some of the taboos that can come from properly addressing your own issues was instrumental in his mental well-being and development.
“Toxic masculinity meaning I shouldn’t cry, or have fear or show emotions [was an issue for me],” says Salisbury. “[This was due to] when I was young and heard that Black men don’t do therapy. I isolated that thought in my mind. That stigma needs to open up for a lot people and that’s why I am here.”
Khali applauded the Salisbury on his fearlessness to openly admit the weaknesses of “toxic masculinity” and addressing it.
“For Chukundi to express something that has the weight of an entire culture on it and for him to be able to frame that in such a digestible way, I want to congratulate Chukundi for being vulnerable to hold up a positive resemblance of masculinity,” says Khali.
The panelist and attendees came together to discuss and find solutions to address the needs of our community’s young people. Some solutions mentioned were focusing on being human first, opening different channels that allow positive energy to flow back and forth on how one feels.
“Why are young people, Black people struggling with these issues in proportion to other people in this culture?” asked Roberson.
“It is important to understand the legacy that slavery left on our people, and we are still struggling to unpack the damages left by that,” she said. “Finding a place of safety or finding a person that you have the luxury of being vulnerable with and being able to practice articulating your emotions and practice expanding the emotions we have access to outside of mad, sad, happy or angry is vital.”
Overall, the webinar was extremely informative and eye opening on just how not only our children, but all of us are finding it difficult to address and adjust to the mental stress caused by life’s struggles, unpredictable events like COVID-19 and the anxiety, stress and trauma that can arise from it.
“The take aways and additional needs were heard loud and clear,” says Nichols. “The importance of positive adult-youth relationships as it relates to youth mental health, the need to de-stigmatize depression, anxiety and other mental heath challenges and increase culturally relevant resources in and out of school and virtually and lastly the importance of systemic solutions that will endure past this time of crisis. The conversation must continue.”
“The event was amazing,” says Bakari. “Everyone was very engaged. It was powerful conversations between the high school panelist and the professionals. This was extremely important. I could tell by the engagement in the chat section that people were really listening, taking notes and hungry for this type of conversation.”
By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium