A group of Colorado teens is trying to make life better for their peers — by improving access to mental health services.
Partners for Children’s Mental Health is on a mission to move our state to the top for youth access to mental health care. Colorado currently ranks 42nd in the country on this measure.
“I feel like adults are trying their best to help. I really feel like they are. They just don’t know the ways in which it’s most useful to help,” said Kaitlyn Tollefson, who serves on the Youth Committee for Mental Health.
Members of the youth committee are hoping to change the future by giving health professionals, educators and policy makers hard truths about the way their generation perceives behavioral health care – at a time when too many kids are in crisis and feel lost.
Member Vanessa Tao said, “I think if they really knew how much a lot of adolescents and teenagers were struggling, they would be absolutely shocked.”
Asked to write on a large Post-it note a single word to describe their experience trying to access mental health care, the teens wrote: “selfish, vague, overly complex, daunting, intimidating and overdiagnosed.”
Some measures designed to help – like mandatory reporting – have unintended consequences.
Member Jacob Welte said, “At my school, there’s this thing going and it’s like, I don’t want to talk to the teachers because they’re mandated reporters. And I’m afraid that what I’m going to tell them is going to get out there and they don’t want to it be reported to their parents.”
Mental health screening surveys frequently given to teens don’t always result in nuanced, individualized responses.
Referring to the outcome a peer faced after asking for help on a survey, the Committee’s Rachael Mwamachi said, “She was given unhelpful options which then ended up her getting, facing consequences that she didn’t want. And so after seeing that story I always think in the back of my head, every time I see the option or that survey I say ‘no’ because I don’t want to be bombarded with unhelpful options.”
There’s also the challenge of treating stress, finding the path to healthy living, rather than just responding to crises.
Member Michaela Meier said, “And I think like when we start discussing mental health, we really have to like focus on like mental health is so much more than just ‘Are you going to hurt yourself or others?’ Because we can really prevent it when we start addressing the symptoms before they become a crisis. And I think that’s what doctors don’t do well at.”
Asked to envision a system of care that works, the teens wrote that it should be: “understandable, approachable, holistic, and offer grace.”
Stephanie DeJesus Ayala is a portfolio manager at Partners for Children’s Mental Health and also acts as a facilitator for the youth group.
She said, “We need to come together and make the system easier to navigate so that everyone can feel that they can ask for help, everyone can feel like they’re really supported.”
The Youth Committee for Mental Health is comprised of 11 Colorado teenagers. Learn more here:
They’re currently recruiting new members. The group currently advises those who train mental health professionals in Colorado– hoping to incorporate more of the voices of our youth.
And remember there is help available 24 hours a day by calling 988 – the suicide and crisis lifeline.
To learn more about the Youth Committee for Mental Health including how to apply, visit https://pcmh.org/youth-committee-for-mental-health/
And for more of our special coverage of Kids in Crisis and the ‘Connecting the Dots’ documentary,.