Bridging the mental health chasm

Far too many young people still fall through the cracks. Here's how to address their unmet needs.

Listen to anyone who suffers from mental illness describe their struggles and eventually you’ll hear something akin to falling into an abyss, a pit of despair, or hitting rock-bottom.

It’s not simply personal despair that swallows people whole. Our mental health care system is designed in a way that requires those who are hurting most to leap a chasm to receive assistance. This can be particularly treacherous for young people.

Consider the current standard design:

The challenges inherent in providing mental health care to young people have been clear for years. Still, we continue attempting to bridge the divide with various forms of the same strategies currently in place. Most recently these have involved telemental health and incorporation of AI. Of course these innovations will aid many people; but they do not address the primary challenges those who struggle with their mental health continue to confront.

When I examine the issues from my perspective as a parent, psychologist, professor, and design thinker, I note three major oversights that continue to vex the system:

  1. Young people frequently are not comfortable seeking mental health services and finding someone to relate to in an anonymous fashion can be very challenging. Approximately 50% of young people who struggle with their mental health do not seek professional assistance. Instead, they frequently turn to the internet in search of others like themselves. However, web surfing is fraught with negative interactions that compound suffering.
  2. Young people who have learned to effectively cope with their mental health challenges have few uncomplicated and safe means of providing validation, support, and encouragement to their peers. This is particularly dismaying subsequent to a tragedy when they may desire to provide a more personal level of comfort to their peers. Moreover, research has demonstrated that sharing one’s personal journey bolsters mental health. Our current system rarely considers means of nurturing the mental health of those who no longer require assistance, but who may remain at greater risk.
  3. Starting a conversation around mental health with an individual one is concerned about is typically very awkward. Sadly, there are very few means through which someone can express to another individual that they see them and they care.

We simply must address these oversights to arrest the rising rates of mental illness.

GenuineU is a website where people (beginning with high school and college students) with lived mental health experience can empower themselves by posting videos about their journeys. Others who feel alone and suffer quietly, can anonymously gain a sense of support without engaging in counterproductive and frustrating internet searching. In addition, our Send a Note of Support feature allows anyone to input an individual’s email and have the site generate a note letting the recipient know that someone is looking out for them. GenU eliminates the potential for comments, peer-to-peer messaging, or “likes.” The site is safe and free to use.

I encourage you to visit and share it with the young people you care about. If you see them struggling, send them a note of support. Perhaps they’ll visit the site, listen to videos from peers, and take to heart the advice they hear. This might address their immediate suffering and fortify them to take additional proactive steps. At minimum, seeing the collection of videos decreases their perception of stigma.

GenU isn’t a panacea, but it’s a way to begin addressing unmet needs and closing the mental health chasm.

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