By Daniel H. Gillison, Jr.
Did you know that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10-34?
And that statistic dates to before the world shut down from a global pandemic and the U.S. Surgeon General declared a national youth mental health crisis.
This year, we’ve learned just how much our young people are truly struggling. And here at NAMI, we’ve made it a key priority to invest in early intervention to ensure that people can get the best care possible as early as possible. This work is critical considering that 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 (and 75% by age 24), and the average delay between symptom onset of a mental health condition and treatment is 11 years.
We’ve been committed to reaching our young people where they’re at through several strategic initiatives, including our partnership with the Steve Fund focused on reaching young people of color; our new online version of Ending the Silence focused on reaching middle school and high school-aged youth; and our active role in helping to launch the Well Beings youth mental health project, led by Public Media and WETA, the PBS flagship station in our nation’s capital, along with what is now more than 30 sponsors and partners.
Since launching the Well Beings youth mental health campaign two years ago at NAMICon 2020, many NAMI Affiliates have partnered with local PBS stations and community organizations in a national virtual tour to 30 markets, from Nebraska to Alaska and from Pennsylvania to California. These collaborations have brought youth mental health resources and panel discussions across the nation, featuring youth with lived experience, peers and professionals, family members and friends to talk about the most pressing issues challenging young people’s well-being today.
So far, more than 1.7 million people have engaged in the national tour; 10,000 stories were submitted to the “We Are Well Beings” storywall; and the campaign has received 62 million impressions across social media platforms. But the work we’re doing to bring this critical conversation about youth mental health to light is just getting started.
We’re proud to have joined together once again for the launch of the new four-hour documentary series “Ken Burns Presents Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness,” a film by Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers, premiering June 27 & 28 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide and streaming on PBS free video on demand.
The documentary follows more than 20 young Americans from all walks of life who describe their experiences with mental health conditions. It features first-person accounts from young people who open up about everything from experiencing visual and audio hallucinations since childhood, to battling substance use disorder in the family, to waking up in a psych ward and being hospitalized after a particularly stressful period of life, to wrestling with an eating disorder, and so much more.
Sharing authentic stories like these is a critical part of spreading awareness and fighting the stigma surrounding mental health. I can’t help but wonder if hearing stories like these from other young people who are also struggling would have made a difference with my own cousin, who lost her life to suicide far too young in 1986. If initiatives like these help just one young person or one family to know that they are not alone, it will all be worth it.
It’s been such an honor to be a part of this campaign, which I truly believe can have life-saving ripple effects. We were proud to feature a sneak preview of the film and a panel discussion about the film last week at NAMICon 2022. During the opening plenary session on day two, Ken Burns spoke with NAMI Next Gen Advisors about how the film speaks to what young people are experiencing with their mental health today. And earlier this week, we had the privilege to participate in a special screening of the film in Washington, D.C., at the White House with First Lady Jill Biden and at the Capitol with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
We look forward to the important conversations this series will continue to spark in families and communities across the country when it is officially released this coming Monday. And we encourage you to help play an active role in facilitating those conversations in your own communities by hosting your own screenings and panel discussions with your local NAMI in the coming months.
Projects like this that empower young people to share their experiences are the first step to addressing the youth mental health crisis and bringing help and hope to families across our country. It’s up to each of us to truly listen.
Youth Mental Health Resources:
Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. is the chief executive officer of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Prior to his work at NAMI, he served as executive director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) in addition to several other leadership roles at various large corporations such as Xerox, Nextel, and Sprint. He is passionate about making inclusive, culturally competent mental health resources available to all people, spending time with his family, and of course playing tennis. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanGillison.
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