New York City, NY — As I enter my junior year of college, the statistic of suicide being the second major cause of death for those ages 15 to 24 in the U.S. is one of the reasons it is so important to think about mental health and universities.
Recently, the Jed Foundation (JED), which promotes mental health awareness and suicide prevention, hosted its annual benefit at Cipriani in downtown New York City and focused on advocating for adolescents’ mental health and suicide prevention. The two Student Voice of Mental Health Awards Winners were recognized for their work in mental health. They spoke about their takes on our mental health climate.
Jose Caballero, one of the honorees, is a rising sophomore at Columbia University. He is a first-generation college student who is queer and Latino. He moved from Nicaragua to the United States in 2018 and faced a large language barrier. While he was learning English and facing pressures from academics and family, he noticed his mental health deteriorate into depression. He wants to help others with similar experiences to his own.
Audrey Wang, the other honoree, is a rising senior at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, California.
“With the rise of social media combined with the effects of the pandemic, it is more crucial than ever to address youth mental health, especially anxiety, depression, and eating disorders,” Wang said. In her daily life, she has noticed the negative impact of social media contributing to her peers’ mental health issues. She said she sees Gen Z as being more vocal and aware of mental health. Because of this, she created Affective Cookies, which make social media sites more inclusive through a filter.
Phillip Satow, co-founder and JED Board Chair, said the outlook on youth mental health is different now. “I would want youth in 2023 to know that the conversation and landscape around mental health have changed tremendously in the last 24 years since Jed [my son] took his own life,” Satow said. “In those days, higher education leadership was focused on three things: academic excellence, fundraising optimization, and improved national prestige. There was no safety net for struggling students to fall back on.”
“As U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy identified, connection and community are the most powerful ways to address the epidemic of isolation and loneliness in our country,” Satow said.
Just like the issue of isolation and loneliness people may face, youth may have another barrier with regard to what they view as being “success.” Caballero shared that life is not linear. He doesn’t see there as being one way to reach success or his dreams.
Caballero noted that in the moment, it can be difficult for students to grasp the bigger picture. He said it is important to “use this specific movement to learn more about themselves and what triggers them, rather to feel weak.”
While our generation may be seen as being more open about mental health than the older generations, I have noticed that there can still be a stigma. Many of my peers can be afraid to openly discuss issues, and the culture can be more difficult to navigate during college.
Because of this, I believe there is a need to open the floor for genuine dialogue. In my own life at college, I’ve noticed that a “How are you doing?” with the intent of listening to someone can go a long way. It is more important than ever to acknowledge the impact of our actions and words, as well as make sure our peers are doing the same.
Ilana Drake is a journalist from New York City and attends school in Nashville. Follow her on Twitter: @IlanaDrake_
Edited by Nykeya Woods