This phrase is heard often in the offices of school counselors and mental health therapists who work with teens. A significant percentage of today’s adolescents struggle with issues that affect their mental health, their ability to learn, and/or their sense of identity. Imagine taking a typical group of teens and asking how many of them have not struggled with or been impacted by any of the following: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicidality, poor body image, disordered eating, questions of sexual preference and identity, learning disability, problems with attention, physical disability, chronic illness, bereavement, parental divorce, domestic violence, homelessness or sexual assault. A surprisingly small number of students would be able to answer that they have neither dealt with one or more of these issues themselves or been impacted by a family member or friend’s struggle with these issues.
Teens often feel too vulnerable to discuss their personal struggles with peers. Instead, they post photos on Instagram and Snapchat that show them at their best – smiling with friends as they pose to show their bodies from the most flattering angles. When others see these posts, it perpetuates the idea that everyone else is happy, popular and good-looking. Teens grappling with serious problems end up feeling isolated and stigmatized, which creates a vicious cycle, increasing their vulnerability to depression.
Although standard school health curriculums typically address mental health topics, this is often done in a dry, didactic way, for example, by listing statistics for the various types of disorders. However, adolescents do not often get a chance to hear from peers what it feels like to struggle with an emotional or learning problem, or to learn specific coping strategies that can help.
The glowmedia films introduce students to teens just like themselves, teens whose day to day lives and relationships with family and friends are familiar. When the adolescents in the films struggle, whether it’s with depression, body image, or wondering how to tell a family member they are gay, students viewing the films will feel less alone, less stigmatized by their own issues. The teens in the film model what it is like to confide in friends about a problem, and to seek advice from a parent, a coach, or a school counselor. The importance of getting support and learning coping strategies is emphasized.
In a 2014 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Mary Giliberti, the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) wrote: “Creating space for open and honest dialogue saves lives…Teachers, parents, brothers, sisters and friends need to know that it’s OK to talk about mental illness. If we fail to do so, we are failing our children, our future and ourselves.”
The glowmedia films are an important step in destigmatizing and providing information about mental health issues so that adolescents feel more comfortable speaking up about problems and getting appropriate help.
Andrea Hansell, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
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