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We've talked about youth mental health, but it's time for us to hear from the youth themselves. On this episode, high school students and hosts of the On Our Minds podcast, Matt Suescun and Faiza Ashar share some of the major mental health challenges youth face, their experience hosting a podcast about teen mental health, and ideas for how we can improve youth mental health programs. The first step: include them.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Hello, welcome to Mentally Healthy Nation, a podcast of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. I'm today's host, Christopher Chun-Seeley.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: We wanted to hear from students who are already talking about crucial conversations on what the return to school means to them. They are podcasters themselves, for the teenage-led and produced podcast On Our Minds, produced by the PBS Student Reporting Labs. On Our Minds connects, educates, and inspires listeners of all ages with their conversations about the biggest mental health challenges young people face. Let's learn more about their journey in sharing their stories, getting others to share theirs, and what the start of another school year means for them. I want to welcome Matt and Faiza, On Our Minds podcast hosts.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: So, thank you both for being here today to talk about the conversations you have been having, and how you both are gearing up for another school year. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourselves and why it's important for you to host a podcast about the mental health challenges young people are most concerned about? Faiza, let's start with you.
Faiza Ashar: All right, cool. So, hi everyone. I'm Faiza Ashar. As Christopher mentioned, I'm one of the co-hosts of On Our Minds with Matt here, and this year, I'm going to be a high school senior in Baltimore, Maryland, and I think personally, I wanted to become a host for On Our Minds because I was once a listener too. So, and when I heard it, it just gave me a platform that I've never really heard of before, since it was something that I could relate to, and something I could find myself in, and these stories that were broadcasted to so many people was something that I finally could feel comfort in. So, I just wanted to spread that joy and comfort to other listeners, as a host myself. What about you, Matt?
Matt Suescun: Hi. So, I'm Matt. I'm from New Jersey, and I'm also going into my senior year, so that's definitely a little bit more of a specialized experience, because we are applying for colleges, so there is a different sense to this year compared to other years. But that being said, the reason why I wanted to be a host for this podcast is because particularly in my school, my school administration started mental health initiatives, which obviously, all of our students appreciated, but they were very out of touch, and it became a large point of criticism and contention in our school. And I really enjoyed having these conversations, and we even had them with teachers a lot of the times, about how our school can improve their mental health program, and how they could be better suited to fit our needs as students. And being able to have those conversations is something that I really enjoyed, and I thought this podcast would be a great opportunity where we could platform those discussions not only amongst ourselves, me and Faiza, but also with different experts and student opinions from across the country and the world.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Yeah. I think I have to thank both of you for being just so open throughout the podcast. If you haven't listened to the podcast yet, please finish listening to this one, and then go to Google in On Our Minds, and you'll find the podcast episodes. I think as an adult who has their own experience with mental health and has their own mental health journey, I think it's really inspiring for just the Student Reporting Labs in general, and what the work that you all are doing to bring the stories of youth to life, and the real life experiences. When you listen to these podcasts, they're not sugar coated, right?
Christopher Chun-Seeley: I think one of the first episodes, you were at a conference and asking people, "What is mental health?" And they were very real answers, and some of them struggled, and you left them in there, and I think that's the real life experience that people are going through, and I think it's so beautifully done, and I just want to personally just thank you both because I have you here today, but please extend that thank you to all of the students that you're working with, because again, it is truly inspiring to see youth be so, I think empowered to talk about their mental health journeys now, which is definitely a different experience than I had growing up, not too far away from being a senior in high school myself. So, well, I guess pretty far now, but it doesn't feel that far anymore.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: We were talking a little bit before we started recording here about college visits and things like that, and I think you're so right, Matt, it's a different experience leading into your senior year and thinking about this transition, and I know that you're talking to different age groups when you're doing these podcasts and engaging in these conversations. And Matt, how about you start us off, and what are some of the major concerns that you're hearing right now from students who are seniors, and others?
Matt Suescun: So, I would say that the main concern for seniors would of course, be college, but I think that can be more broadly applied to concerns about... So, we had an episode about competition, and I think that can relate very heavily to the college process. It's really interesting, because when you're applying for colleges, you're really putting out basically everything you've done up to this point, and that can create issues with self-worth because it's like your whole personality, your entire being is being encompassed on this paper, and that can be a really interesting experience for people, and that can definitely be a source of mental health concern. So, I think it's always important to remember that you are more than any application, you are who you are. Only you will know that, but it's important to remember and have that sense of self.
Matt Suescun: And then I would say another, I guess broader issue that could apply to people who aren't necessarily seniors in high school would be, I think self-worth in regards to social media. So, I think more and more recently, people have become aware of the, I'd say issues with social media, or at least with body image and stuff like that. I think it's just important to remember that a lot of these people with millions of followers who we uphold as the beauty standard, even though we can appreciate these pictures and things like that, these people have access to tens of thousands of dollars that they can use to spend on editing and things like that. It's important to remember that not everything we see on social media is 100% real, and we should never compare ourselves to anything that we see on social media.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Faiza, what are your thoughts on the major concerns that you're hearing right now?
Faiza Ashar: I definitely think the same thing. College applications is definitely a big thing, as Matt said, but I think mostly for teenagers as a whole, everything that has to do with our social lives, and the social aspect of our lives is super important to us, and I think it's really heightened because of social media, since we face so much pressure from even from LinkedIn where you see so many people's accomplishments, but also through Instagram where you see unrealistic beauty standards, but also having to see people's parties all the time that you're never invited to. That sucks, and a lot of people feel pressured by this as well. So, I think just broadly, pressure is something that teens are mostly affected by, and just something that we've all tried to forget through academics, I think, especially with myself, but then it also turns into a pressure. So, it's just constantly dealing with different kinds of stress that isn't particularly motivational, but more pressuring you down. Yeah.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: I want to repeat some of the things that were said by both Matt and Faiza here, just to make sure all the listeners really got some of the main takeaways there. You are more than your application. I think that's huge. You're more than just a number, whatever your grade point average is, and I think there's so many different types of intelligence out there. And I think to your point, Faiza, the pressure, I think academic pressure, social pressure, all of this pressure, it can really take a toll, and I think being able to step back and have a conversation with people that you trust at times, so that that pressure is sometimes shared, right? Like when you know that you're not the only person going through that pressure, or you're not the only person thinking about this test score and you didn't perform so well on it, it can be a real challenge at times.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: And social media, I will say is something that we constantly hear that schools are struggling with this. They see that students are struggling with social media and the competitiveness, and I think a lot of times too, we forget that what is probably put out on social media is the best, and all of the good things that are happening, you don't necessarily share the bad things that are happening in your life on social media, right? It's a very curated sense of a snapshot, a millisecond of someone's life. It's not the full picture of when they wake up to when they go to bed, and I think that's something to keep in mind.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: And you've done a lot of different episodes, you've touched on eating disorders and that body image piece, you've talked about racial injustices and bigotry. I will say, I've been able to listen to those episodes. My favorite one, I'm probably impartial a little bit to a little jealous of Jacob and his interview with DMC, Darryl from Run-DMC. As a '90s baby myself, I got to listen to a lot of their music growing up, and I didn't even know about his suicidal thoughts and his mental health experience, but I was wondering, do either of you have a favorite episode, and if so, what makes it stand out to you? Faiza, how about we start with you?
Faiza Ashar: Yeah, sure. So honestly, we've talked about this a lot. I think Matt knows, and also our producers know about this, but my favorite episode would have to be our competition episode, in part because it was so memorable in the way that Matt, Deisha, our mental healthcare correspondent, and I talked about our similar experiences in school, and again, the pressure that we faced, but it was just really interesting how we could have a conversation that had so many similarities in our own experiences, even though we were miles away from each other. We're from all over across the country, but we face the same hardships and experiences that come with school, and social life, and anxiety, things like that, and we had a whole, almost an hour-long conversation about this.
Faiza Ashar: Obviously, that's not in the episode, but it was just really something that stood out to me, and it became one of my favorite episodes because of that, and it was also the first time that we actually talked to Deisha, but we were able to create such a bond and such a connection just over the span of an hour, which was just amazing to me. And I think that's why it's so important to have these conversations, because you can find people who are just like you and have the same experiences as you, and finally find a common ground with someone else, even though they're miles away. And I also think that this is one of my favorite episodes, because there were so many cool stories on it. One of our guests was Zaila Avant-Garde, which was the National Spelling Bee Winner of 2021. So, it was just super cool hearing from her. She's so talented. She does basketball, she does spelling bee, she's just so smart, and it was just so inspirational to hear her story, and how she talked about how she sees other people being faced with competition, but she grew from that, and I just found it something very educational and just inspirational for myself.
Matt Suescun: And I would say for me, I'd say I agree, the competition episode was really great, because as Faiza did say, we had our conversation as we normally do for the podcast, but then we had that one hour conversation that just came out of nowhere, and I remember that was probably our only meeting that ran late. So, that was really fun to have, because I guess we just had so much built up stress, that's just nice to release sometimes.
Matt Suescun: I would also say that another episode that came to mind that I really liked though, was our episode on fear of missing out, because we talked about Euphoria, and I forget if this particular conversation actually made it to the final cut of that episode, but we talked a lot about how is this show a good indicator of teen social life? And then we compared that with other shows that we thought were better examples, or worse examples.
Matt Suescun: And I thought that was a really interesting conversation to have, because a lot of it boiled down to how it's important to have teen perspective in these media formats because oftentimes, when I think particularly kids will look down or make fun of this content that's made for mental health, it's because it comes from this adult perspective that's trying so hard to understand kids, and not from kids themselves. And that kind of circles back to the first thing we were talking about, about why we wanted to join this podcast. I think having actual teens speak about mental health is so valuable because you know it's real and authentic, because their experience is coming from us, and not being told by adults.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Could not agree more about that final statement there, Matt, especially we joke internally here at the Foundation, me and Joy, my Program Manager, about how as soon as you graduate from high school, you're so far removed from that experience, because every generation is a little bit different, every year is a little bit different, and that experience, and you really have to continue to go back and just listen, and sit down and say, "this is your experience, and this is what you're going through." And I had my own experiences, but that was my experience, and that's not the same what you might be going through today.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Just kind of pulling up the experience of you talking about your first cell phones, and when you got your first cell phones, it was my first year in high school, and there was a fight between my mom and my dad about whether or not I should even have a cell phone, because there was still a payphone still in our high school, And then I got this little flip phone, and just what that means to have access to social media. And I don't even have social media on my phone at this point in my life, because even as an adult, it causes stress and anxiety, and wanting to be an advocate for mental health all the time, you have to turn off some of those things, and you have to realize when the tools are right to use them.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: And you've kind of shared a little bit about some stories here, but I would love to hear a little bit more about some of your favorite stories as your time as hosts on On Our Mind, and is there a particular one that sticks out, or a fact that you've learned from a mental health expert that you really want our listeners to get maybe a tidbit of, to encourage them to go listen to the full episode?
Matt Suescun: I would say that my favorite story was... Okay, well, this wasn't necessarily a story, but I think our episode with Ken Burns. We had a conversation with him, and that was probably one of my favorites because I think the way that he speaks is just so poetic, and kind of beautiful. So, I re-listened to that one twice, I think, just to dig into what he said. I really recommend that episode because he speaks in a very narrative way, where you can apply what he's saying to your own life in some regard, even if it's not entirely relatable. I felt like that episode was one where I have never experienced that sense of grief in my life personally, but there were things of what he said that I felt like I could apply to myself, which I think is always really good to have.
Matt Suescun: But I think in general, I just really like the stories where it's like this person shares their perspective in regards to their hometown and where they come from, and their background, and they talk specifically about how an issue has affected them within their own community, because I feel like oftentimes because of where we live or the communities that we're in, we kind of forget a lot about other people's perspectives. We might think we understand there are different perspectives out there, but to see them and hear them, and to get this snapshot into someone's life from another state or another country is really valuable, because it helps us contextualize those experiences as real people experiencing real issues. So, I'd say that those are my favorite types of stories, and I would say also the Ken Burns episode is definitely a must-watch. I highly recommend that one.
Faiza Ashar: Yeah, I definitely agree with the Ken Burns episode. It was really memorable for me, since he was actually one of my role models since I watched PBS growing up, and watching his documentaries. So, it was just a really transformative conversation in a way, and I learned so much from him, like the tips that he gave us in relaying sympathy with others was just very informative for me. But I also agree with the stories, having those stories with diverse backgrounds is super important.
Faiza Ashar: But one of the facts that I personally learned was realizing the importance of medicine, and also treatment in one's mental health journey. I used to view mental health as something strictly psychological and mentally related, but to everything, there is a biological basis to it, and that's why there is medicine out there, that's why there's treatment, that's why people get hospitalized, because the root of care is always biological. And I think that's why my conversation with Kristen Stone from the Schizophrenia Spectrum Project really helped me realize that people with diverse mental health conditions could find relief through treatment, and I think that's so important. Whether that be through therapy, or medicine, or being hospitalized, that aspect of the mental health journey is probably one of the most transformative ones.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Thank you so much, and I would recommend the Ken Burns episode. I would also recommend the documentary, Hiding in Plain Sight as well, which is, I mean, really great to see Ken Burns getting into an area that I'm passionate about, after seeing his work in documentary growing up as well. And I do want to talk a little bit more about mental health and this individual journey, and what you're seeing, as new data suggests that on average, it's about 11 years between when an individual first experiences their first signs and symptoms associated with a mental illness, to when they actually get connected to care. What do you two think about this, and does it align with your experiences and what you've learned since starting the podcast?
Faiza Ashar: I honestly think broadly, that I would say yes. I know personally so many people around me already acknowledge their symptoms of mental health and mental health conditions, but there is a sense of fear of scrutiny, and also just, especially in my community with immigrants, there's just so much stigma surrounding mental health that doesn't want them to take the next step to care, and I personally face that as well. I feel like I don't take the necessary steps as well, but I think for everyone, it's a journey, but that's why there's such a large gap of 11 years. That's literally more than half of my life, that people don't take those first steps of care, and I would definitely say yes to that.
Faiza Ashar: But there's also this reckoning of mental health awareness, and also just an acknowledgement of mental health, that people are feeling more comfortable to talk about it, and to have access to these resources that are at least online, that they can take in person, and I think that's really important in the way that we can shorten that gap. But there's also a lack of viable treatment and resources for people, especially in rural communities where they don't really have access to treatment that would be beneficial for them.
Matt Suescun: I would definitely agree. That being said, I think you said 11 years, right?
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Yep, yep.
Matt Suescun: I think that 11 years will definitely shorten, and I think it is because there's so much more access to mental health resources, and I think that as Faiza was saying, that process of reducing stigma surrounding mental health has definitely accelerated over the past few years, and I think that is the reason why podcasts like On Our Minds do exist. I know that from my personal experience, I would say that in elementary school, middle school, mental health was definitely still something that was taboo, but I'd say more so in recent years, like in high school, it's definitely been addressed more.
Matt Suescun: It hasn't been addressed well, I think that's a completely separate issue, which is I think something that is, of course, still being worked on, which is okay. But I do think that overall, things have gotten better in terms of actually discussing it, in terms of not shying away from these conversations, which is something that is really cool to see, but I think that there could also be some work being done on how to target that messaging and how to create appropriate messaging, especially in schools, surrounding mental health.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: And I think you've mentioned it in your podcast episodes, and we talk about it here at the Foundation about the continuum of wellness, right? And I think Faiza, you talked about the journey of mental wellness and the journey of mental health, and the power of your podcast, and you've talked about this already, is the connection, right? The ability to share those diverse stories from different backgrounds, different voices, different localities, right? Like Matt said, my community experiences is different from Faiza's, and you're not too far away from each other, really, but then thinking about you're both on the East Coast, what is the experience on the West Coast, or the Mountain West, or all these different pieces?
Christopher Chun-Seeley: And I think you're starting to touch on this, Matt and Faiza, and I want to dive into this a little bit more. Do you think we're listening to youth when it comes to mental health and the messaging, and like you said, are we doing it well? They're talking about it, but are you doing it well? Are we listening to the youth, and if we're not, what can we do to change that?
Matt Suescun: I think we are listening to the youth, but I don't think we're platforming the youth, which I think is extremely important, and I think the reason why we've accelerated these mental health efforts is because adults and teachers, and I'd say general people with power have paid more attention, hence why we see these programs. But that being said, I don't see a lot of students speaking about this in a platform that's given to them by adults, because at the end of the day, I would apply most mental health programs to a school institution, in terms of as you're growing up, because there's not really that many other places where you're going to interact with so many children, and then experience. That can be a breeding ground for those mental health concerns.
Matt Suescun: So, I think that it's important that in those institutions, we make sure that teachers, parents, staff are not only listening to students, but making sure that we hear students speak, and hear them out, because I feel like now with mental health programs, there's a sense of following a script that guidance counselors may have or teachers have, which can be helpful, but at the same time, it's important to really make sure we're listening to these students, and not just going by the playbook in terms of mental health, because mental health issues, mental health concerns are going to look different for everyone. There's not really one size fits all, but it's why it's important that we have specialized care for these students.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Faiza, what are your thoughts?
Faiza Ashar: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I honestly think that most people are not listening to the youth, and that's something that we definitely need to change, but I would say that there's definitely platforms that we have now, especially with On Our Minds, and this podcast as well, inviting guests over like us is really important, and that's just the first steps to changing the playing field for youth mental health. And as Matt said, honestly, a lot of these institutions don't really listen to the youth as well, but I think once they start giving youth a platform, whether that be through town halls, or forums, or panels, or things like that, that would be such a transformative experience, not only for the teenagers who finally get that experience to have a platform and to talk about mental health in a candid way, but also for adults who want to actually change the playing field, and want to implement what the youth are saying.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: I hear you loud and clear that the foundation, I mean, I'm doing a self-assessment right now based off of what you're sharing with me, that we can do a better job of developing a platform to share the youth perspective, to bring more awareness to what the youth are saying, and to amplify the voices of youth in a different way. And we have some ideas that we're cooking up behind the scenes, and hopefully into 2023, we can start to do more of that work, because I completely agree with you, because you do inspire, and I think you do connect well, and I think if we're thinking about who's going to educate youth better, it's youth. If I'm talking to my friends, my friend, trust me, so we can have a true conversation. I think that's the same with some of these more difficult conversations.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: When you hear about the APA foundation and our work, at some point, you're likely to come across the terms notice, talk, and act, and I just want to say Matt, not a script, but a framework. And this is the process that we reference across our programs to guide people in how they can notice early warning signs of mental health conditions and other distress, talk to express care and concern, and develop a relationship, and then act to connect them to support services. What are some suggestions you have for people who are engaging in this process of trying to support youth and getting them connected to support services, and when they're concerned, do you have tips of how they can do a better job of that?
Faiza Ashar: Yeah. So, I think the framework, notice, talk, and act is super important whenever facing things with mental health, especially when you want to talk to someone else and want to reach out to a young person. Say you're a parent, and you realize that your teen is facing some mental health conditions, or you notice those things, but taking the next step to actually talk to them is really critical and crucial, and make sure that you're doing it right.
Faiza Ashar: So, I think the most important process is just to listen to the other person as well. Don't just talk to them, make sure that they talk, and make sure you hear those experiences that that young person is going through. Make sure to not demonize them or scrutinize their own experiences, because that's what they've been feeling this whole time. That's why there's that 11 year gap, and that kind of fear of confronting one's own mental health is alleviated by people actually talking to them, and especially to adult figures that are the closest to them. And remember, the first step of realization is also really hard, but confronting that step is the most important one, since that's what starts everything, so don't feel afraid to start that.
Speaker 4: The APA Foundation values their work with school communities, but this doesn't just mean for the people within the physical walls of the school. That's why they've created free resources for parents and caregivers on coping skills, reconnecting, distance learning, and more. Check them out today by visiting apafdn.org.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Matt, what are your thoughts?
Matt Suescun: So, what Faiza said about really taking the time to listen instead of just speaking, I also think is very important, and I think that can apply more broadly to this idea that individuals have their own way of quote, unquote, solving their problems in their own lives. So, I know for example, in my life when I'm sad, I kind of just want someone to be like, "Oh, I'm sorry that's happening to you. I get what you mean," and I don't necessarily want an objective approach at that time. I kind of just want to maybe feel sorry for myself for a little bit, and then after I step out of it for a little bit, then I can approach my issue and address it.
Matt Suescun: But then I know some people who really love to just be like, if you're feeling sad or feeling down about something, for someone to approach you and be like, "Okay, this is how we're going to solve it. This is how you're going to do it, blah, blah, blah." I just know that's not something that works for me, and I think that just goes back to how mental health is different for everyone. So, it's important that oftentimes when we talk, we have this intent of trying to help people with these issues that they might bring up, but it might not be helpful if that's just not a system that works for that person. So, by listening, we can make sure that the way that we are speaking to people can actually be helpful and productive.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: One of my favorite videos that I went through when I was an undergrad in college, when I was training to work with youth, and kind of the difference between someone who wants to vent and someone who wants you to solve their problem is you have to sit there and listen, and it's a video with two partners, a wife and a husband, and the wife has a pencil sticking out of her head and she's trying to explain what's going on with this pencil, and the husband's like, "Well, let me take this out," but he's not listening.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: He's just trying to solve the problem, when really, at the end of the video it's like, "Well, I know how to take this pencil out. I just wanted you to listen to how this happened to me, how I got here." There was this opportunity to vent, but instead of that, you're just not listening and you're trying to solve this problem, and trying to discern that difference. And I think Matt and Faiza, you're so right, just sitting and listening, and usually giving them the opportunity to talk, you'll arrive to this point of, "Okay, it sounds like they've already solved this problem, they just wanted to get it off their chest, or they're looking for some help, and how do I help them get there?"
Christopher Chun-Seeley: And I think something that you talked about, Faiza, and I want to emphasize here, is everyone's on their own journey, right? Whether or not they engage in that support service is really up to them, and what we talk about when we go into schools is that you might have to walk somebody to support services, walk with them on that journey 15,000 times before they cross that threshold. It's up to them to engage in those support services. You do your role of bringing them there and supporting them, and being that relationship, being that connection, and that's all we can ask of you, and just showing up is sometimes the best thing that you can do.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: I think listening has been a big part of this conversation, right? Is there anything else that you would recommend, or something that you wish parents knew about the mental health challenges that young people face? What about school staff? Is there anything that you wish the adult members of your community knew more about the challenges of mental health for youth?
Matt Suescun: I would say that the biggest thing that parents and teachers can do is to be understanding, or to try to maybe put themselves into other people's shoes. I know that this is something with my family that I personally experience. So, I'm Latino, and my family is Latino overall, meaning that in that specific community, there are some preconceptions about mental health, and it's definitely not something that's very talked about. And as a result, it can be hard for parents to understand because especially in the Latino community, there's very much a tough love approach, and because of that, oftentimes things like mental health will oftentimes get ignored, they'll be swept under the rug as not really an issue.
Matt Suescun: But it's important for parents to understand, and teachers, and any adult that, for the example of family and parents, these are your children. You should want to help them to the best of your abilities. But at the same time, I think it's important to be understanding of adults too, that adults have grown up differently, adults didn't have these mental health programs that we have now in school. So, it's important, I think for both sides to have perspective, but at the same time, I do think that adults and teachers, the best thing they can do is be understanding and really try to put away these preconceptions first, and then try to help these students.
Faiza Ashar: Yeah, and I definitely feel the same way. As I mentioned before, my family, as a family full of immigrants from Indonesia, so I definitely feel the same aspect of that community preconceptions of mental health, but I feel like the most important step for parents, and really, any adult to take, is giving youth the space to actually talk about mental health. As we mentioned, constantly listening and having that platform is super important for youth, especially since we're so used to being exposed to things like social media and the online, but we don't have these spaces in person.
Faiza Ashar: And I think that's the brut of why there's so many preconceptions, is because there's that gap between the online world, and also the in real life world, where it's like we have so much productive conversations, well, limitedly productive conversations online, and then we hit this roadblock in real life where it's like your parents don't want to listen to you about it, or your community leaders just obviously already have those preconceptions of mental health. And the first step is to have that space and to give that platform to the youth for them to speak on it, and also just destigmatizing it is super important. I know I've said these points constantly and constantly, but I feel like it's just something that we all need to consider to further in the improvement of youth mental health.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Continue to say destigmatize and demystify the access to care and what mental health is and what treatment looks like. I think there's no issue with repeating things, and what I want to do here is actually, I can't promise that any member of Congress will listen to this episode and find this little piece, but I want to give both of you a platform. If you could talk to members of Congress about youth mental health and young people facing these challenges, you got them in an elevator, they're stuck, they can't leave, they have to listen to you, right? What would you say to them, and what would you really want to bring to light? And Faiza, let's start with you, and then Matt, I want to give you the platform here to speak to some of these things.
Faiza Ashar: This is hard. I might have to think a little bit, but yeah.
Matt Suescun: Faiza, I can go first, if you want. What do you think?
Faiza Ashar: Yeah, go first, please.
Matt Suescun: So, if I had that elevator pitch moment, I would definitely say, of course that we need more programs, but we already have programs. I think more specifically, it's important that A, we have student involvement, but B, that we are cognizant of different communities because again, another term that's been repeated many times, that mental health programs should not be approached as a one size fits all issue, because mental health will look different for every single person. But I do think that there are some similarities amongst different communities, whether those be communities joined by race, gender, sexuality, or anything like that. I think it's important we recognize that mental health concerns can affect different communities in different ways. So, it's important that when we're addressing these mental health concerns, that we do it in a way that remembers to put different communities at the forefront of this conversation.
Faiza Ashar: Yes, I agree.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Matt, I could not agree more. I think a big piece of mental health treatment and access to care, where we lack cultural awareness, and I think building culturally appropriate programs and approaches, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that, to your point, we don't invite communities in when we're creating these programs. We sit here in our, what people might refer to as an ivory castle, from a medical community standpoint, and we need to do a better job of not just looking at people who have a medical degree. We need to look at what is the true experience from a community member?
Christopher Chun-Seeley: How are we bringing in my conversations that I have a lot? This is a conversation about school, but I also work in the justice side of things, and we talk about these judges as justice experts, and our psychiatrists as the mental health experts, but a big thing we're trying to push is people with lived experiences who have gone through the justice system, who they have an expertise that no one else has. They've gone through the system, they know the pitfalls, they know the retraumatization that might happen within the system, and if we don't go to them, and we don't start listening to them, we're going to create a new system, but that system is going to have the same pitfalls, and it's going to have the same retraumatization.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: And I think that's the risk that we continue to play when, I think to your point, Matt, we don't sit down and say, "Well, what is your experience as a Latino male living in the East Coast, and what does that experience look like?" And Faiza, to your point, "What does that experience being an immigrant student with a family, what does that mean for you and your experience with mental health and what that journey looks like?" And how do we have a conversation with your parents, Faiza, which is going to be different from having a conversation with Matt's parents, and we have to understand that, and we have to be willing to take the time to understand those differences. Faiza, I would love to get your elevator pitch to Congress.
Faiza Ashar: Yeah, I think I feel like me and Matt, we'd be in the same elevator, and I would just extend on his elevator pitch, but I feel like the next proposal for this elevator pitch would be to actually outsource and go into these communities individually, and find community leaders who have been guiding the youth in those communities for so long, and as you said, they are the ones that have the most experiences within their lived experiences with mental health, and things like that. So, just taking that next step beyond proposals and beyond legislative documents, but to actually talk to these individuals, and go into the communities and have conversations with them about what mental health looks like for them, but also the future generations that will pass the torch on, and will eventually become the next Congress leaders. So, it's just really important to hear that human and personal voice.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Actually having Congress go back into their local communities and finding those champions, and reconnecting with those that A, their constituents that elected them, I think a lot of times, we forget that those who are most impacted by our policies and decisions, and those who are hurt most by it are also the reasons why we need to go back into those communities, so that, like I said before, when we create new policies, new laws, we're not creating the same pitfalls and the same hurtfulness, because we forgot to include the people who are, to your point, doing the work already, right?
Christopher Chun-Seeley: If they're already mobilizing youth to do this, why are we not going in, and why are we not investing in those approaches so that we can, I'll use this term, amplify the good work, and how do we replicate it? Because if that good work is happening here, we might have to change it a little bit to work in a different community, and I think we have to, again, have that conversation and be willing to say, "Okay, this approach isn't going to work. How do we change it? How do we adjust it?"
Christopher Chun-Seeley: So, I'm going to pull my social worker aspect into this next question. So, I have a magic wand. Everything's been fixed with mental health, and we're 10 years down the road now. What does youth mental health look like in the next 10 years, when you think about all of these things that we've talked about? If we listen, if we bring in the community leaders, if we actually sit down and create culturally appropriate programs, invest the right way, what can youth mental health look like in the next 10 years? Big question again, so if you need to take some time to think about it, all good, but 10 years from now, where are we at with youth mental health, with a magic wand that you can wave over to fix everything?
Matt Suescun: I would say that with the magic wand, I think that every student should have someone available to speak to, a trusted adult who's educated on how to handle students with mental health concerns, either with talking them through their mental health concerns, either with helping to diagnose them. I think access to that should be readily available, like five to 10 minutes away, and that can come from either a doctor, a therapist, it could come from someone within the school building, I think is the best thing possible, because oftentimes for children, a big source of that stress, a big source of these mental health concerns is school. So, I think especially making sure that we have that faculty in school buildings is extremely important.
Matt Suescun: But of course, certain towns are set up differently, so I'd say just having that access like five, 10 minutes away would just be amazing, and even if not, then just so many more virtual resources. I've seen lots of advertisement, lots of things for these virtual programs, and I think that there's definitely a stigma around them too, and honestly, I personally know that I need to do more research on those programs. But I think that ideally with this magic wand, these accessible, reliable, trustworthy, beneficial, productive, it's a lot of adjectives, but all of those, if all of those could describe these virtual mental health programs that exist, then I think that would be amazing for the landscape of mental health.
Faiza Ashar: Yeah, and I definitely agree. I think that access to care is one of the most important things that we lack now. I know I said that there is also a fear of mental health, but there is also a lack of mental health resources around us. So, just having that accessibility within schools, beyond schools, within healthcare systems, and making sure that mental health resources are included in insurance is extremely important, because many people cannot afford these mental health resources, and they're at such a high price, especially for those who need it the most, and I think that's one of the pitfalls that we have right now.
Faiza Ashar: But changing that landscape and having a healthy ecosystem of resources, and as Matt said, not only in-person resources, but virtual resources that anyone can access, is crucial for the development of youth mental health, especially in the next 10 years. And I think that's kind of inevitable, and the fact that technology is growing and technology is expanding, and more people are having access to it, even beyond this country, and I'd love to see how that would transform the landscape of youth mental health in the next 10 years.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: I have to say, I love the tangible goal of five to 10 minutes away. If every student has somebody they could talk to that's five to 10 minutes away, wow, that'd be a game changer. My head is spinning with how if we could reach that goal, if there's a way for us to measure that goal, now I'm motivated to figure out a way for us to... How do we do that? So, thank you for that challenge, Matt. I think that's a great challenge for the field to think about how do we get every single student who's in school, or not in school, because I think that's also something for us to consider, to have somebody that's five to 10 minutes away? I think I loved your point, Matt, also about, it doesn't have to be this mental health professional, but someone that they have that positive relationship with, so that they can go to, and if it does require that specialized care, they can get them connected to it.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: And Faiza, I think I would love to challenge the listeners as well to think about how we can use technology in a different way. I think this pandemic that we've experienced has increased telehealth usage, which I think is a great tool for us to think about the expansion of, and how we continue to think about what does it mean to train up the next generation of providers to utilize this as a tool to get more... Five to 10 minutes away, gosh, it's a phone call away, if you can use technology in the right way, and I think that's such a great challenge, again, for the field to think about how do we continue to push technology in the right way?
Christopher Chun-Seeley: So, our conversation is coming to a close. I've really enjoyed this conversation. I just want to thank both Faiza and Matt for A, your candor, your openness, and just your ability to inspire. Again, I'll go back to what I said earlier to start the conversation, I think you are really inspiring young people. I think your future is very bright in your ability to make what we've talked about today happen, and I just want to encourage you to keep at it, to take care of yourselves as well, because the fight to get to that 10 year goal that we were just talking about, it takes a whole team of individuals, not just one of us is going to do that, and I think even the way that you two have bounced ideas off of each other today has been something that we should all strive for in conversations.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: So, I just want to say before I pass the mic over to you for some final words, continue to connect, continue to inspire, and continue to educate through the On Our Minds podcast, because we really do need to continue to give youth the platform, so that we can listen better, and implement these changes that are actually going to benefit the people we are trying to serve. So, to kind of close us out, what is something from this conversation, the numerous conversations you have had with youth, or perhaps something that hasn't been said today that you would like our listeners to take away with?
Matt Suescun: All right. So, I would say some takeaways in terms of mental health, apart from this conversation and the other conversations that we've had with youth, I would just like to go through some bullet points really quickly, because I think it's important to get all that out. First off, it's okay to cry. I know there's this whole thing like guys can't cry. Guys can totally cry. I cry all the time, so I know it works. So, definitely do that, that's okay.
Matt Suescun: Try, if you can, whether that's in person or online, to find someone who has the same mentality with you, I would say, or someone who you can relate to in terms of mental health. I think having that point of relatability and not feeling alone in that process is super important. And I'd also say try to find ways where you can vent your mental health productively, and in a way that serves you well. So, for instance, I know for me, journaling is something that has worked. So, I have my own journal and I'll write my thoughts down. I mean, not really a diary, more just a little mental health notebook, and I think that's good to have. Find those little resources for you that will be helpful, because again, for like the hundredth time, mental health is not one size fits all. It will look different for everyone. So, find what works for you specifically, and that is the best way to improve your mental health, or to begin your mental health journey at whatever stage you're at.
Faiza Ashar: Yeah, and I really wanted to express that same aspect of the mental health journey since everyone's journey is different, and it's formed by one's life experiences, one's background, and overall, just one's future. And I think that's the most important part of your journey, to never compare yourself to others, just because one person is on the ending goal of their journey, on one's Instagram post, doesn't mean that you have to be there. It's a process, and it takes time, and just because you see one person doing this, doesn't mean you have to be doing it either. It's just like with me and Matt, I know I really benefit from writing down in a journal, and talking about things in my life, that really helps me vent in a productive way, but some other people may find that through therapy, or talking to one of their friends, and I think that's one of the most important aspects of mental health.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Awesome. Well, that's how we're going to end it. Thank you both for that.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Thank you for joining us today on Mentally Healthy Nation, to learn more about what students are saying about mental health. We also want to thank our esteemed guests, Faiza and Matt, for their time and contribution to this crucial topic.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Faiza is located in Maryland, and is a senior in high school, where she is enrolled in her school's interactive media production program. She loves everything multimedia and journalism related. Involved with an array of affinity and activism organizations at her school, she is dedicated to amplifying student voice. As a co-host for PBS News Hours Student Reporting Labs On Our Minds podcast season two, she has discovered a newfound passion in public media through reporting in teen mental health.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: Matt is located in New Jersey, and is a senior in high school, where he lives with his mother, who is from Queens, and is Peruvian and Ecuadorian, and his father, who is from Colombia. His mental health journey began with finding people who made him feel heard. He is dedicated to giving students a platform to express themselves. As co-host for the PBS News Hour Student Reporting Labs On Our Minds podcast season two, he has hoped to give other students a chance to feel heard.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: If you'd like to hear more of the student perspective, we highly encourage you to check out On Our Minds at studentreportinglabs.org/onourminds. And for more information about the work being done at the APA Foundation, we encourage you to go to apafdn.org, where you can find free resources to support the students in your life. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please share this episode, or any of our other episodes with a friend, family member, or colleague. I'm Christopher Chun-Seeley. Take care of yourselves. We hope you'll come back soon.
Christopher Chun-Seeley: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the individual speakers in their personal capacity only, and do not necessarily represent the views of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, or the views, official policy, or position of the institutions and organizations with which the speakers are affiliated. The content of this podcast is provided for general information purposes only, and does not offer medical or any other type of professional advice. If you are having a medical emergency, please contact your local emergency response number.