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Rachel Huggins

Communications Manager, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Cultivating Connections to Help Communities Thrive: Shining A Spotlight on Youth Mental Health Champions

July 11, 2019 | Population Health | Comments
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All young people deserve to grow into healthy, resilient adults.

Yet the mental health and well-being of young people in the U.S. is in an alarming state. Depression diagnoses among adolescents increased 63 percent between 2013 and 2016. Suicide attempts are four times more likely among LGBTQ youth and deaths by suicide are roughly two times higher for black children ages 5-12 compared to their white peers. We need solutions!

With half of all mental disorders beginning by age 14, less-advantaged groups, including youth navigating their gender identity and sexual orientation, communities of color, to those with immigrant and refugee backgrounds, are having a harder time sorting through difficult emotions that result from compounding stress or trauma.

The National Council and partners are working to change this equation, banding together with passionate people and organizations around the country during a time of crisis.

We recognize that system-level change for young people ages of 10 to 24 is most effective when organizations are committed to implementing new approaches that are developed at the community level. That’s why in January of 2019, we created our youth-driven leadership program, CONNECTED to help the next generation of leaders thrive at home, at school and in their communities. “We’re not just using youth voices to inspire; they are with us every step of the way,” said Mohini Venkatesh, vice president, business and strategy at the National Council, who spearheads the initiative.

In March 2019, the two-year program kicked off at NatCon19 in Nashville, Tenn., by bringing together five youth-serving organizations (pilot sites) and 20 youth participants. One pilot participant enthusiastically described the kick-off training as “our first real and prolonged opportunity to engage with our youth,” and all participants left with a common understanding of the work needed to create a plan of action to address youth mental health in their community.

Empowering Youth to Engage in Community Change

What makes CONNECTED a rich and diverse learning collaborative is the leading role of its 20 youth participants, a network of Young Influencers, ages 16-24, who are passionate about bringing youth voices into local community plans and projects; and five Youth Consultants who mentor them and guide the implementation of these efforts.

“I learned how to take care of myself before caring for others,” one participant said of the kick-off session, designed to create a safe space for young people to build bonds with their peers. Another participant echoed the program “validates what I am doing for myself and my community.”

Not only are the youth advocates demonstrating their commitment to elevating the voices of youth nationwide, they have important stories to tell – stories of challenges and successes, of unmet needs and unsung heroes, of hope and recovery from their unique experiences: navigating the foster care system, building a youth group, living with a mental health challenge and/or stepping up to lead in their school or community.



During Mental Health Month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) spotlighted suicide prevention for young people during Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 6 CONNECTED Young Influencers amplified their voices on social media to bring awareness to the impact that suicide has on families and communities.

CONNECTED is just one way the National Council is helping to strengthen communities and amplify youth voices across the country. Are you ready to answer the call?

We encourage you to join the conversation about all things related to youth mental health by engaging with us online at #ConnectedMH. We need your voice to reduce stigma of living with a mental health challenge. Together, our voices can make a difference.

If you believe you or someone in your life may be suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak to a counselor, or visit The Lifeline is confidential, free, and available 24/7 across the United States.



Additional resources for support:

Crisis Text Line

Text HOME to 741741

Free 24/7 crisis support via text

Trevor Project


Free 24/7 crisis support for LGBTQ+ youth

7 Cups (Online non-crisis support community for teens)


CONNECTED is in partnership with Change MatrixReliasWatauga Consulting and Youth MOVE National. A comprehensive project evaluation is led by the Michigan Public Health Institute.


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