Headstream team members gave their perspectives on the state of young people’s mental health and discussed how they advocate for it.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world in a number of ways, but not all of them were negative. One of its positive legacies is the paradigm shift it prompted in the global approach toward mental health, from increased recognition of its importance and a reduction of the associated stigma to heightened government focus and greater access to services. Although observed in May in the US since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been instilled with renewed urgency since the pandemic began.
Young people experienced the mental health challenges of COVID-19 most severely, according to the World Health Organization, while the National Alliance on Mental Illness has found that one in six youth between the ages of 6 and 17 live with a mental health condition. Effectively supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing is crucial and requires increasingly innovative solutions.
Prior to the pandemic, SecondMuse was already recognizing the importance of youth mental health. In 2019 we established Headstream, an initiative focused on building a healthier digital space to empower and promote youth wellbeing. By the time COVID-19 began impacting young people’s mental health, Headstream was in a strong position to respond to the global need for innovative solutions.
A richer and more meaningful digital experience
Headstream comprises three main pillars, which together are creating a richer and more meaningful digital experience for young people as they grow up.
The first of these pillars and the “beating heart” of Headstream is its’ Accelerator. To date, Headstream has worked with 37 entrepreneurs to scale and integrate youth voices into their digital innovations, such as Maria Oliveira Tamellini, co-founder and COO of GamerSafer, which helps game companies prevent bullying, harassment, hate speech, sexism, predators, and fraud; Gaurang Choksi, founder of Violet, which is working to standardize inclusive care to promote health equity for diverse patients; and Ashima Sharma, founder and CEO of Dreami, a mentorship platform dedicated to making mentorship equitable and scalable.
The second pillar is a series of Youth Co-Creation programs which recognize and celebrate the importance of developing emerging technologies alongside young people. Past programs include Youth 2 Innovator (Y2I), which focused on equipping young people with the skills, tools, and networks needed to become innovators in the space; and the Y2I Advisory Board, a four-month virtual program conducted last year in which Y2I alumni advised the entrepreneurs participating in Headstream’s Accelerator and co-designed their products and services.
The third pillar, Headstream Research, is driven by the program’s goal to be constantly learning, and has seen the development of a systems map, numerous workshops, a series of “curiosity labs,” and the launch of two research projects: Digital Delta, focused on crowdsourcing a community network structure, along with Headstream’s Impact Measurement Tool.
Embracing Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week
For the Headstream team, Mental Health Awareness Month is a vital period for promoting research-driven, inclusive and collaborative solutions for youth mental health challenges, as well as a time to celebrate their work and achievements. In support of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week — which is observed as part of Mental Health Awareness Month — two team members have written articles to share their knowledge and experiences working in the space.
The first is Senior Program Associate Sabrina Abdalla, who is a strong advocate for children’s mental health. A visionary educator, community builder, multidisciplinary creative, and founder, her unique background informs her work and passion for creating a more innovative and equitable future. Born in Kenya to Somali parents, Sabrina grew up in Salt Lake City, where she witnessed firsthand the struggles faced by systemically excluded communities. Her experiences have given her a deep understanding of the importance of community building, the power of education, and cultural storytelling to empower individuals and create lasting change.
As part of the Headstream team Sabrina has demonstrated her expertise in creating programs, workshops, and spaces that resonate with the cultural fabric of society. In her article she explores the crucial nature of youth mental health, the particular challenges young people face, and where they can find resources and support. She also highlights a handful of the entrepreneurs supported by Headstream who are “bringing forward new ideas, products and services that can help young people manage their mental health and wellbeing in a digital age.”
Young people must be co-creators of mental health solutions
Like Sabrina, Headstream’s Program Manager, McKenna Dempsey is also an advocate for youth mental health. She believes that elevating young people’s voices, providing them with wellness tools, and involving them in programs and services that impact them is the best way to create social change.
Leading process implementation across Headstream’s programs, McKenna helps to track progress, define goals and milestones, and ensure clear communication between teams and projects. She also coordinates Headstream’s in-person and digital events. Prior to working at SecondMuse, McKenna operated her own start-up building a mental health platform for young people.
In her recent article, McKenna describes how mental health among young people is worsening and how Headstream is helping to tackle this alarming trend. In particular, she notes the essential nature of involving youth in the creation of mental health solutions, as without this collaboration, “we may accidentally create products that further damage their experiences or just don’t help in the right ways.”
McKenna points to two Headstream alumni — Selfsea, a peer-to-peer youth mental health platform, and Youme, which provides online and telehealth behavioral therapy — as examples where close collaboration with young people, Headstream’s Y2I youth advisors, resulted in more comprehensive, genuine, and accessible services.
“As a part of the entrepreneurial community, there’s a lot of potential for us to create innovative solutions that address the pressing issues that young people face,” McKenna writes. “At Headstream, we’re committed to continuing our efforts toward this goal. We believe that by harnessing the power of technology and collaboration, we can drive positive change and make a real difference in the lives of young people.”
As McKenna emphasizes in her piece, the number of teenagers struggling with mental health issues continues to climb, so there is still a lot of work to be done. There are however many initiatives around the world that are drawing attention to youth mental health challenges; for example, we are encouraged by the American Psychological Association’s recently issued recommendations for guiding teenagers’ use of social media. At Headstream, the team is working toward pivoting its initiatives to reach more people and impact more youth, and is positive that we will see change in the near future.