United Way
of Massachusetts Bay
and Merrimack Valley

April 25, 2017

This Youth Venture team wants young people to “Mind the Signs” of mental health

Young people today are more stressed than ever. An awareness campaign by youth, for youth teaches students to manage stress and anxiety.

Today’s youth face a litany of pressures and expectations: do well in school; participate in extracurricular activities and sports; hold down a part time job; get into a good college; figure out how to pay for that college. Add to that a difficult family situation or financial stress at home and it’s no wonder that so many youth are struggling with stress, anxiety and depression.

So when our Youth Venture team from Boston Area Health Education Center (BAHEC) at the Boston Public Health Commission had to come up with a community-benefiting business idea for the social entrepreneurship program, they quickly identified this as an important issue to tackle.

They decided to build a nonprofit awareness campaign called “Mind the Signs” that would help fellow youth talk about mental health issues and provide tools and opportunities for them to manage stress and anxiety. They made stress balls to give out, set up a booth at a local Brain Health Fair for people to learn more about these issues, and produced a Public Service Announcement that aired at the Fair and at least 5 other Boston high schools.

LEARNING THE ISSUE

Reducing the stigma around mental health has been more visible in the public eye lately, with high profile celebrities like Great Britain’s royal family and Lady Gaga talking about it. Still, it is something that many youth and families don’t feel comfortable addressing.

“I like the fact that we did a venture on a topic that isn’t really talked about in high schools,” said Saran Inniss, one of the teens involved in the project. “It’s like opening a box that hasn’t been opened in a long time.”

Research shows that anxiety disorders will affect 1 out of 4 youth over their lifetime. Yet only 20% seek help – which means 80% say nothing.

“Many high school students came to our booth at the Brain Health Fair and when we told them the stats about anxiety and depression, they agreed and told us they had also experienced mental health-related challenges,” said Tsungai Jackson, another member of the team.

LEARNING THE SCIENCE

In order to best inform and help others, the group had to become experts on the subject. They did extensive research into mental health issues among teens – particularly stress, anxiety and depression – and learned what coping skills are recommended by the medical community.

“We had to learn how to do deeper research using validated health information,” Dami Oluwadara explained.

Once they mastered the subject, they were able to communicate what they learned. This was particularly gratifying.

“I liked teaching the coping strategies to people, especially if they didn’t already have a self-care strategy themselves. We were able to provide a resource for them to help reduce their stress,” said Malik Tahlil.

LEARNING THE BUSINESS

Learning how to talk about mental health was just one part of the process. To really make the Venture a success, “Mind the Signs” had to learn and implement real business practices like time management, creating tasks and timelines, developing products, and budgeting.

“We even learned how to make a gantt chart!” said Emeka Ihionu, describing the classic project management tool.

They created their own stress balls and self-care tools to give out at the fair and learned how to film and edit their own PSA. And throughout that process, they also learned another critical business skill: identifying and learning from their flaws.

“A man at the Brain Health Fair pointed out one of the flaws in the coloring book pages we provided. He wished that the page had less details and was more like a kids coloring book, because he felt the need to color in the lines and get all the details right. It was eye opening to see our potential flaws,” said Tsungai Jackson.

The “Mind the Signs” campaign is already making a real difference to reduce anxiety for students in their community, teaching stress management skills that people will carry with them for a long time. And the teens who created it have learned even more from the process than they ever expected; valuable skills which they will carry with them through whatever future career and stresses may come their way.

Watch the PSA

 

See more Youth Venture teams like this at the Youth Venture End of Year Showcase on Monday, June 5th at District Hall. Join us to celebrate all that the Youth Venture students have accomplished this year!