Leelanau News and Events

Local Teens’ Perspectives On Mental Health Detailed In Photos

By Ross Boissoneau | May 4, 2022

A project using photos to detail the perspectives and stories of area teens on their mental health was the centerpiece of a recent conference hosted by the Northwest Michigan Community Health Innovation Region (CHIR). High school-aged students from across ten counties in northwestern lower Michigan were asked to share their perspectives and experiences related to the stigma around youth mental health with photos and a brief written narrative.

Through Our Eyes: A Photovoice Project on the Stigma Around Youth Mental Health & Wellness” premiered in April during the Celebration and Action Summit hosted by CHIR.

The summit and the project are part of a behavioral health initiative launched in 2021 by the CHIR in response to a spiraling behavioral health crisis in the region. Students were given three framing questions to help launch their creative process:

• What does the stigma around youth mental health look like? What is the impact of this stigma on youth?
• What in your community or school increases the stigma around youth mental health? What decreases the stigma around youth mental health?
• What actions can your school or community take to reduce stigma around youth mental health?

Each student submitted one photo per question to share their perspectives and experiences related to mental health, the stigma surrounding it, and recommended actions to address these issues. Amy Horstman, community health coordinator at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and Northwest Michigan CHIR staff, says it was surprising to see the diversity among the students’ depictions of mental health and the stigma surrounding it, as well as their suggestions on how student mental health could be better supported. “It was exciting to…hear from their perspective what could be done moving forward to support student mental health,” she says.

The Northwest Michigan CHIR includes the 10-county region of Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee, and Wexford counties. Each CHIR region utilizes action teams to achieve goals related to access to care, and well-being and resiliency.

One action team’s focus is to reduce stigma towards youth mental illness.

This task force is now using the photovoice project and the wise words of youth to promote change. Student recommendations to reduce the stigma include providing youth with education on mental health to change attitudes and behaviors, encouraging more face-to-face and less social media interactions, scheduling group conversations to promote openness and access to mental health assistance, supporting sports and other activities that alleviate stress, and more.

“What can we learn from our kids about the stigma around youth mental health? How can we help our kids feel less alone?” asked Ty Schmidt, founder of Good Works Lab, a Traverse City-based team tasked with solving complex community problems. “It starts with listening to our kids. It’s time.”

To view the student photos and stories click here.

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