A letter from our Founders.
As we celebrate the one year anniversary of the Youth Mental Health Project, we cannot help but reflect back on how it all began. Like many other important beginnings, the founding of our organization began with a meaningful conversation. As two mothers raising children with mental health concerns, we shared the exhausting and painful experience of feeling isolated and not knowing where to turn for help, support and resources.
The statistics are staggering: one in five children in the U.S. has a diagnosable mental health condition, and yet, less than 20 percent of youth receive the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives. We were far from unique, so why had we felt so alone?
Frustrated by the lack of understanding and knowledge in our own communities, we both had been trying to raise awareness about youth mental health. Having found success with my own children, I was leading trainings in local schools using a socio-emotional learning tool called Kimochis, which helps children connect with and talk about their feelings. Randi, had written and co-produced an award-winning feature film, No Letting Go, that tells the story of a family, much like her own, and their journey to help their son through his struggle with anxiety and bipolar disorder. Eloquently detailing the toll mental health disorders take on an entire family, the film is hopeful while shedding light on a topic that has been kept in the dark for too long.
Individually driven to make a difference, we knew that together our impact could be multiplied.
On a rainy Tuesday night only a few short weeks after meeting Randi, I organized a community screening of No Letting Go for an audience of over one hundred people at my local library. During the facilitated discussion with Randi after the film, many families bravely ended their own silence by sharing personal struggles with their own children’s mental health challenges. Other parents seemed eager to learn more about children’s mental health.
As we heard in the room that night, and every day since, a cycle of shame, blame, silence and misunderstanding prevents people from gaining knowledge about how to nurture children’s mental health or get help before mental health concerns become a crisis.
Having done exhaustive research, Randi showed me that few national nonprofit organizations focus primarily on improving both understanding and awareness of youth mental health and, when they did, their messages fit distinctly into two separate categories: “wellness” or “illness.” Given our combined experiences, we knew that, just like physical health, mental health lies on a continuum and includes all states of health, from wellness to illness. Because mental health can and does shift, change, and evolve throughout a person’s lifetime, we knew that breaking the cycle of shame, blame, silence and misunderstanding would require a movement to improve understanding of all aspects of mental health.
The time for change had come.
In July, 2016, we co-founded the Youth Mental Health Project, the only organization in the nation that focuses solely on the entire continuum of youth mental health. We believe that every child’s mental well-being needs to be nurtured, and that mental wellness and physical wellness should be equally prioritized. We exist to empower, educate and support parents, caregivers and community members to better understand and support all of the mental health needs of youth.
We have traveled the country over the past year to speak at events, run workshops and training sessions at conferences, and facilitate over 100 community conversations and screenings of No Letting Go. We’ve talked to thousands of parents, educators, mental health providers, and physicians who leave our sessions with greater knowledge, a common vision and empowerment to address this challenge.
Together with Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut, we created a booklet to illustrate the ages and stages of youth mental health development, called “Understanding Youth Mental Health.” In partnership with Child Guidance Center of Mid-Fairfield County, we developed a 32-page guidebook for parents called “Understanding Youth Mental Health: Questions Parents Frequently Ask” to educate and support parents as they learn to care for their children’s mental health. Check it out here.
There are almost 18 million children in our country who struggle with a diagnosable mental health condition. Early intervention and prevention is possible but our work has just begun.
But we cannot do it alone. Join the movement to improve youth mental health:
Learn: Invite the Youth Mental Health Project to host a workshop for your school, workplace or community group or host a community film screening of No Letting Go.
Give: Support our efforts and donate today. Have a birthday coming up? Donate your birthday on Facebook Fundraisers to help raise awareness and funds for the Youth Mental Health Project.
Partner: Contact us about starting a Parent Support Network in your community to support local parents and caregivers in facilitating open, honest dialogue. Our pilot networks will launch this fall.
We believe in the power of conversation and community. Give us a call, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, download our materials, and share our information with friends and family.
Thank you for your continued support. Together, we can advance youth mental health and wellbeing.
Wendy Ward and Randi Silverman, Co-founders
Youth Mental Health Project