In a Decoder Dialogue webinar, News Decoder gathered five teens from three continents to share their thoughts and experiences around mental health.
The Decoder Dialogue on Mental Health featured Marcy Burstiner, Maria Krasinski, Kingsley Onydikachi Aaron-Onuigbo, Rachel Roth, Darian Harris, Ayeyi Baah and Victor Juarez, 15 November 2022.
Teens feel stressed.
When News Decoder visits with teens in member schools, we ask them to identify topics important to them. Mental health invariably comes up. Teens face increased pressure to succeed, their futures seem riddled with seemingly insolvable social and ecological problems and on social media they find a polarized world.
The pandemic only magnified the anxiety teens feel.
“This hits young people the hardest, and it coincides with disruptions in access to quality mental health services,” News Decoder Managing Director Maria Krasinski told a virtual roundtable hosted by News Decoder on November 15.
For Let’s Talk Mental Health: A Decoder Dialogue, News Decoder gathered five teens on three continents to share their thoughts about the mental health crisis in their regions and how it affects them and their peers.
The participants came from News Decoder’s 21 partner schools across 17 countries. Having students from partner schools connect through webinars is a key part of News Decoder’s mission of building a borderless community of young people who learn from each other to become better global citizens. These students and youth around the world have the opportunity to write and report global stories and get published on News Decoder’s site.
The mental health webinar included guest expert Victor Juarez, founder of TuConsejería, a nonprofit organization in Guatemala that provides mental health services to youth.
The stigmatization of mental health
Juarez said that a big problem that needs to be overcome is the stigmatization of mental health.
Kingsley Onydikachi Aaron-Onuigbo, a student at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, said he sees that problem around him.
“Many Nigerians, including myself and my family, grew up listening first hand to the stigmatization of people with mental health issues,” he said. “It only makes sense that since we grew up listening to this, that is how we are going to view mental health issues unless you choose to educate yourself and choose to destigmatize it.”
Simón Rodriguez, a student at Gimnasio Los Cabos in Columbia, said people in Columbia try to hide their feelings. He said that friends of his who sought help from psychological institutions felt judged.
And Ayeyi Baah, a student at SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Ghana, said people in her country rarely seek help when they need it. “Older generations feel that in order to succeed in life, you have to show a tough, hard exterior,” Baah said. “Talking about mental health leaves you vulnerable.”
Coping with stress
The students discussed ways they and their peers cope with stress and depression. Darian Harris, who attends the Tatnall School in the U.S. state of Delaware, said students around her are under enormous pressure to get into a good university. But they try to deal with their problems on their own.
“They try to organize their thoughts through reminders on the app. They use their phone, try to write down what they need to get done,” Harris said. “But I also found that they don’t really have a lot of coping strategies, and that also affects their diet, sleep activities and so forth and so on.”
Rachel Roth, who attends The Hewitt School in New York City, said she learned some important tips on coping when she wrote a story for News Decoder on the stress put on youth who play competitive sports.
Roth focused on mental health problems that emerged in 2021 when tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open because of anxiety and depression. Osaka and other celebrities struggle with constant barrages of hate on social media, and that’s something many teens can relate to.
For the article published by News Decoder in August, Roth interviewed former pro tennis player Patrick McEnroe, who won the French Open men’s doubles title in 1989. McEnroe told her that when he competed, he didn’t have to face attacks on social media. One thing that helped him was a strong support network.
“I’’m a junior tennis player as well,” Roth said. “And so when I talked to Patrick, I think one of the biggest things I learned was kind of how important it is to have a support system around you.”
Finding time to destress
Rodriguez said it is important to find time for yourself away from social media.
“We live in a world that is full of things all the time. You’re on your phone, you’re on social media, you’re watching videos,” he said. “If you think about it, there is a small amount of time in your day in which you’re not consuming things.”
It’s important, Rodriguez said, to just have time for yourself and do something that makes you feel good.
Juarez said that young people shouldn’t have to face their problems on their own.
“Having access to mental health [services] is a privilege in many of our countries,” he said. “It is something that shouldn’t be a privilege. It is a right. It is a human right to have access to these types of services.”
Three questions to consider:
- Why do many people think it is bad to seek out help for anxiety or depression?
- How can social media make teens feel more anxious?
- What services are available in your region that help people with mental health issues?
Marcy Burstiner is News Decoder’s Educational News Director. A graduate of the Columbia Journalism School, she has taught journalism for more than 15 years at Cal Poly Humboldt in California. The author of Investigative Reporting: from premise to publication, Burstiner was awarded the James Madison Freedom of Information Award in 2018 by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.