White House forum explores growing youth mental health crisis
Eva Long’s mother was overseas when she got a call saying her daughter had committed suicide while away at college.
“I was just in shock. I said, ‘This can’t be real. This can’t be true,'” Long said. “That cry of a mother when they’ve lost their child is a pretty wicked one, and I couldn’t stop it.”
That cry increasingly is being heard around the country. Many parents and caretakers can relate to the feeling of not knowing if their child is a threat to themselves. There is a normalization in this country of locking up medicine, and hiding kitchen knives to keep homes safe for adolescents.
It was the same grief-stricken cry Honey Beuf said she experienced two years earlier when she received a phone call on Jan. 8, 2019, that her then-19-year-old daughter, Liv, had been taken to the hospital while away at college in Colorado.
Liv later died, a death that was caused by suicide, according to Beuf.
“What you go through as a parent is you feel everything so viscerally and on a cellular level, it’s so incredibly awful. I sometimes have such a hard time putting it into words,” Beuf said. “You can’t even process it, let alone the fact that she’s gone because she ended her own life.”
Earlier this month, The Biden Administration held the first-ever Mental Health Youth Action Forum at the White House. This forum consisted of a conversation with youth mental health advocates, many advocating from their experiences battling mental illness.
“Recovery isn’t always the same as healing. Over the last decade, an alarming amount of young people have struggled with mental health challenges,” first lady Dr. Jill Biden said at the forum.
“It takes courage to be honest about the struggles that you face and to tell your stories,” the First Lady continued. “I’m so proud of everyone here today, and the President is proud of you, too.”
The overall goal of the forum was to saturate social media feeds with mental health content stemming from ideas presented at the forum, leading to change in how mental health is addressed for young people. It was also intended to destigmatize mental health disorders.
Mental health advocate and childhood celebrity Selena Gomez, who has been very vocal about destigmatizing her bipolar disorder diagnosis, moderated the event. Gomez said that opening up about her own story had been liberating. “I heard a phrase actually recently that I really like, ‘that which is mentionable becomes manageable,’” she shared during the event.
The hope is that through effective policy change in how we address mental health in this country, the screams of parents being told they lost their child to suicide will no longer have to be heard.
“I want to ensure that everyone — no matter their age, their race, religion, sexual orientation — has access to services that support their mental health,” Gomez said, adding that she shares free resources via her platform and cosmetics website. . “And I want to challenge other businesses and individuals to make a difference in the world by taking action to de-stigmatize mental health. We need as much help as we can possibly get developing resources and services and increasing access to those services for young people.”
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 in the U.S. Nearly 20 percent of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide and 9 percent have attempted to take their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Among girls ages 12 to 17, there was a 51 percent rise in suspected suicide attempts from Feb. 21 to March 20, 2021, compared to the same time period in 2019, according to data released last year by the CDC.
Last year, amid the pandemic, youth mental health was declared a “national emergency” by a coalition representing more than 77,000 physicians and more than 200 children’s hospitals.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy issued a 53-page advisory warning of a growing mental health crisis among young people, writing, “The challenges today’s generation of young people face are unprecedented and uniquely hard to navigate.”
Mental health is an ongoing conversation in the Biden Administration. In March, President Biden announced his strategy to address our national mental health crisis, as part of the “Unity Agenda” in his First State of the Union.
The White House issued a statement saying, “The President is announcing a national mental health strategy to strengthen system capacity, connect more Americans to care, and create a continuum of support – transforming our health and social services infrastructure to address mental health holistically and equitably.”
By hosting the Mental Health Youth Action Forum, President Biden is empowering youth mental health leaders to be at the forefront of this ongoing conversation, reminding them of the power they hold. This is shifting the narrative about mental health and will benefit our country.
Every young person’s life is precious; untimely, preventable deaths wound us all. Parents should not have to live in fear of getting the call saying that their child took their life. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reforming mental health practices has taken on a new urgency, ensuring all children have the tools they need to feel safe. Eva and Liv are no longer with us, but we have the opportunity to make sure we learn and act.