Florida — If last month was a chance to step back and honor the vital role of women in our past, today we want to honor emerging voices making history now. These teens are taking action on an issue that’s affected their community for generations: stigma around mental healthcare.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Generation Z, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some Black youth are exposed to trauma and racial discrimination, which can further increase their risk if they’re coping with mental health struggles such as depression and anxiety.
Black youth also face institutionalized racism that exists within the healthcare system. This, in turn, hinders Black teens’ trust in seeking professional help and increases stigma associated with mental health struggles.
These three young Black activists are working to address this disparity by creating online communities for their peers to share their struggles and spark conversation about topics like trauma, therapy and wellness.
The Mental Elephant, founded by student and Black activist Miana Bryant, is an online space that raises awareness and builds mutual support in communities that face and fear discrimination related to mental health struggles.
After Bryant was diagnosed with a form of depression, she said she noticed some of her friends were dealing with similar issues. “Mental health issues can affect any and everyone,” she said. “So it is important to have conversations about these issues and talk to people who can help.”
Moving beyond the online context, The Mental Elephant fosters in-person support by mobilizing students to lead chapters on their high school or college campuses, offering peer-based wellness education.
For Bryant, this work addresses the disparities she saw with mental health awareness among Gen Z youth. “The Mental Elephant is important to me because it provides a space for youth and kid-adults (20-year-olds) to speak about their struggles and day-to-day pains,” she said.
Kenidra R. Woods
As an activist, Kenidra R. Woods noticed how the mental healthcare system was disproportionately failing Black youth due to poorer treatment and care. And as someone who also struggles with mental illness, she wanted a way to vulnerably discuss her experiences.
“[My] battle with bipolar disorder and depression motivates me to make a difference because I don't like seeing people suffer — especially in silence,” Woods said. “Essentially, I wanted to turn my mental anguish into power.”
So she started The Cheetah Movement, a support network for Black teens to move away from practices that criminalize mentally ill Black youth and connect on solving the mental illness epidemic. She engages teens in dialogue, debunks stereotypical myths about Black mental health and fosters accessibility for Black teens to appropriate care and treatment. Her community drives forward an intersectional and inclusive mental health movement, encouraging teens to connect and carry forth their collective vision.
Rachel Sampson founded the Her Circle Initiative after she heard about a 9-year-old girl who died by suicide after being bullied at school. Sampson, who faced similar struggles in her teens, felt an instant connection with the fourth grader. That drove Sampson to create a platform and online community for young girls who need to know they aren't alone in their struggles with mental health.
“This work is important because we need to protect our next generation of female leaders and educate our communities,” Sampson said.
The Her Circle Initiative is a safe space for girls aged 7 to 17 that provides information on common mental illnesses among young girls and self-care tips. Through various storytelling endeavors and resource offerings, the organization aims to facilitate teenage mental health and well-being while protecting the women of future generations.
Teens can engage in the online community through the Instagram network, where they can respond to articles and connect to other femmes who are undergoing similar struggles. Together, they can navigate sources of professional help through accessible hotlines, exercises and coping mechanisms that are available to those in need of support.
NOTE: If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.