Social illness

Practices for sharing & building power with youth leadership

by Kelly Davis, Associate Vice President of Peer and Youth Advocacy at Mental Health America

It is time for action on the youth mental health crisis with youth as key leaders inside and outside formal institutions and organizations. Whether they are starting a collective, spearheading a campaign, or joining an advisory board, many young people are leading the way in mental health advocacy across the country. As organizations and institutions build and grow youth leadership programs, they need to be aware of their power and then share and build that power with the youth in their networks.

For new and seasoned advocates, youth leadership programs provide an on-ramp to getting involved and a pathway for personal and professional growth.

Young people spend their lives in a world where their perspectives are often dismissed, and they may have little to no choice or voice over the decisions that shape their lives. This means that youth programs need to acknowledge and shift this norm by integrating practices that:

  • Support young people to cultivate power within themselves,
  • Build power with mentors through supportive relationships, and
  • Organize power to advance mental health through intentional intergenerational work.

Each year, Mental Health America’s Young Mental Health Leaders Council (YMHLC) creates an annual report focused on the collective learning and knowledge of the group with spotlights on each member’s program and advocacy. This year’s report, Building Power to Build a Mentally Healthy World: Supporting and Advancing Youth Leadership, provides nine guiding recommendations to create leadership programs that support youth as people, in relationships, and as part of larger social change ecosystems.

With so much need at the moment and growing concerns for the future of mental health, designing programs and communities that meet the needs of youth advocates will ensure that young people can thrive in the moment and for the long haul as mental health advocates.

Read the full report.

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