Navigating Youth Well-being
November 18, 2023

Word's Teen Mental Wellness

According to the CDC’s recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly three in five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021, double the rate of boys. One in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide. This same report also showed high levels of violence, depression, and suicidal thoughts among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. The rate at which the teen mental well-being crisis continues to grow is alarming, but we should not be suprised that the communities our society marginalizes are most impacted. 

Word's Teen Mental Wellness

About the author:David Ball leads SecondMuse’s Headstream, an innovation program focused on sourcing and scaling innovations that address the complex intersection of technology and wellbeing for adolescents. Over the last decade, David has advised more than 100 social entrepreneurs to solve global environmental and social challenges.

As the world turns its attention to youth well-being for Teen Mental Wellness Day we reflect on the question we most often get at Headstream, from parents to policymakers to innovators:

How can we most effectively address the complexities of the youth mental wellbeing crisis?

According to the CDC’s recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly three in five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021, double the rate of boys.One in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide. This same report also showed high levels of violence, depression, and suicidal thoughts among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. The rate at which the teen mental wellbeing crisis continues to grow is alarming, but we should not be suprised that the communities our society marginalizes are most impacted. 

Headstream was founded in 2018 to explore the potential of digital solutions to support youth wellbeing. Early collaborators such as Hopelab and YR Media flagged similar alarming trends among teen girls, Black, Indigenous and POC youth, and LGBTQIA+ young people. They pushed Headstream to use our innovation and youth centered programming to support the communities most in need. Over the last five years we have been working to address the root causes of poor mental wellbeing for the exact communities that the recent to CDC survey highlighted as most at risk. As overdue resources and attention is placed on addressing youth wellbeing, it is time to revisit how all of us most effectively address the complexities of this crisis.

To better understand the root causes and address them, Headstream Innovation, together with SecondMuse, created Digital Delta, a participatory research process involving young people, to identify the most promising areas to catalyze mental wellness for teen girls, BIPOC and LGTBQIA+ young people. Our research approach at SecondMuse is to break down complex systems and what levers we can collectively pull to have an outsized impact. Digital Delta surveyed more than 800 people working to improve youth well-being from Headstream’s community of entrepreneurs, innovators, youth, investors, researchers, policymakers, educators, and builders. More than half of these participants were young people. From this research, we identified 13 key factors with the highest potential to impact our target community of young people.  These factors were grouped into three categories: Balanced Content, Positive Relationships, and Accessible Resources. When asked how someone can support youth wellbeing, whether they are an educator or a new funder to the space, we point them to these catalytic categories.  

Young people value balance in their online interactions and prioritize creating positive memories while minimizing hurtful content. We also found that adult role models play a significant role in youth development and that spending time with social groups and friends online is fundamental for their wellbeing. Strong, prosocial relationships with parents, friends, and social groups are key drivers of youth well-being in digital spaces.

Additionally, access to basic needs like food, shelter, and safety, as well as broader essentials like physical, mental, and sexual health, are crucial for promoting youth mental health. One of the most pressing needs for young people is access to mental health resources. Many young people experiencing stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression, or supporting their peers, turn to digital places for support resources. Therefore, there's a need for accessible and culturally relevant mental health resources for young people.

Digital Delta is a cornerstone of Headstream's efforts to enhance the mental health of young people, among many other initiatives we've launched. Since its inception and through innovative programs, Headstream has collaborated with over 70 teenagers, supported over 40 startups, and improved the well-being of over 2.5 million young people with a focus on the digital experience of  BIPOC, Latino, and LGBTQIA+ youth communities. Headstream also aims to create easier pathways for education systems, healthcare providers, and social media platforms to utilize technologies that are prioritizing youth well-being by encouraging investment in emerging technologies, informing policy to increase accessibility and prevalence of digital solutions to support youth wellbeing, and rallying people together to focus on the core problems. Our work is far from over, we are excited to continue to work on more programs to spread our work and reach more audiences until we can finally achieve our ultimate goal. 

On this World Teen Mental Wellness Day, we call to action each and every one of us. We all have the ability to support a young person by sharing a resource or checking to see how a young person in your life is doing. 

For more information on Digital Delta and other ways to play a role in supporting youth mental well-being through Headstream initiatives such as the Headstream Accelerator, and Headstream Youth Co-Creation Programs reach out to hello@headstreaminnovation.com. We can all play a role as individuals and communities in supporting the ongoing efforts to enhance young people's mental health and well-being.

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