Thoughtful. Affirming. Trustworthy. Are You a Youth Champion? 

Role model and mentor spending time with a teenager young man.

A Growing Need for Youth Champions

Driven by data that underscores rising rates of mental health stress and illness among youth and young adults, the youth mental health advocacy organization known as Active Minds is harnessing the power of one of the most significant determining factors in youth mental health and wellness: the power of thoughtful, affirming and trustworthy adults. Youth with even one safe and responsive adult in their lives report significantly fewer mental health-related concerns. Data finds those meaningful connections to supportive adults—known at Active Minds as Youth Champions—are critical for positive youth development and is named as a key protective factor in helping to decrease depression and suicide ideation/thoughts. 

What Exactly is a Youth Champion? 

Youth Champions are parents, caregivers, K-12 educators/faculty/staff, and PTA leaders who have or are learning to acquire the skills and abilities to advocate with youth for their positive health and wellness outcomes. A Youth Champion is dedicated to encouraging healthy social, emotional and academic growth for the young people in their care. Core values of Youth Champions include showing unconditional positive regard, celebrating youth culture, uplifting guiding behavior from a positive youth development framework and facilitating relationships based in anti-racist practices. 

A Coordinated Response: Youth Champion Connections 

Youth Champion Connections are workshops developed by a team of human development and public and mental health professionals committed to providing content and inspiring conversations to deconstruct adult-centered youth development frameworks found in many spaces of youth learning and recreation. As adult-centered youth development is historically rooted in an imbalance of power between adults and youth, Active Minds’ workshops are designed to move away from adult-centered frameworks that have been found to discourage candid conversations; stifle critical thinking and curiosity; and inspire distrust and feelings of emotional insecurity among youth.  

Youth Champion Connections workshops are built with parents, caregivers, K-12 educators and staff, PTA leaders and youth development professionals in mind. Because of the deep impact of this role, Active Minds believes it is critically important that Youth Champions be offered supportive learning spaces dedicated to their personal and professional development, including content focused on their own mental health and well-being. Workshops will increase Youth Champions’ mental health literacy and advocacy skills and introduce positive youth development strategies that encourage healthy adult-youth relationships. 

Becoming a Youth Champion

Active Minds believes that to create safe spaces that inspire youth to learn and be emotionally vulnerable, the adults charged with their care and development deserve opportunities to practice thoughtful, affirming and trustworthy youth engagement. Youth Champions will learn new ways of thinking and being during workshops that will benefit them personally and professionally.  

Active Minds Youth Champion Connections will:  

  1. Highlight strategies for youth engagement that spark feelings of emotional safety for youth of all lived experiences and identities.  
  2. Discuss and demonstrate methods that encourage the growth of youth social and emotional skills.
  3.  Increase Youth Champions’ mental health literacy and ability to support youth well-being.
  4. Build Youth Champions’ mental health advocacy skills to create an active and equitable response to mental health from school and out-of-school-time staff that centers and amplifies the voices and needs of youth and staff. 

Want to attend one or all of Active Minds’ Youth Champion Connections? Submit an inquiry form to keep up with our workshop development and content offerings!  

Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Day + Live Webcast


One in five children in the U.S. lives with a mental health condition and research shows that about 50% of all mental disorders that happen in adulthood can be identified as early as the age of 14.

Learning that your child may have a mental disorder may be challenging, but it’s important to know that children can and do recover from such conditions. Early intervention and access to services and supports is key to supporting every child’s mental health.

Every year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hosts National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day to raise awareness about children’s mental health. The Awareness Day 2016 national event in Washington, DC— “Finding Help. Finding Hope.”—will explore how communities can improve access to behavioral health services and supports for children, youth and young adults with mental and substance use disorders and their families.

This year, parents and caregivers around the country will have the chance to interact with the national event through Awareness Day Live!—an opportunity for families to join the national conversation by viewing the event’s live webcast and posing questions to panelists on stage via digital and social media. You’ll hear from a teacher, a student and a parent about ways to connect with mental health services and supports through the school system.

The event takes place Thurs., May 5, in Washington, DC at 7 p.m. EST at The George Washington University School of Media & Public Affairs’ Jack Morton Auditorium. If you are in the district, you can register to attend.

If you can’t make it to the event in-person, here are a few ways you can participate in Awareness Day Live!:

  • Watch the live webcast on May 5 at 7 p.m. EST. View the national event webcast.
  • Use social media to join the onstage discussion via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #HeroesofHope.
  • Your children and youth can organize a group of friends to participate in the Awareness Day 2016 “Text, Talk, Act” discussion on May 5 by texting “START” to 89800. “Text, Talk, Act” is a text messaging platform that leads small groups through a conversation about mental health and how to help a friend in need.
  • View the on-demand version of the national event at a later date with a small group, and discuss how children with behavioral health conditions can be better supported in your school.

For more info about National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day or for mental health resources, please visit

Blog credit: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration



3 Steps Forward for Our Children’s Mental Health

shutterstock_75904627It is always an exciting time when children head back to school. They are excited to see old friends and make new ones, and everyone loves getting a fresh start with a clean slate each year.

I raised four children myself and often think back to the day my younger daughter began first grade. I remember how worried she was about going off to school that first day. I asked her why she was so upset, and she cried, “Because I don’t know how to do any first-grade work yet!” I said, “But that’s what first grade is for—to teach you how to do first-grade work.” “Oh,” she replied after a pause, and headed out the door to catch the bus.

Most of our children’s anxieties are just that easy to resolve. They are real but relatively minor, and it takes a little listening, a reassuring response and some modest encouragement to get them out the door and on their way.

At Mental Health America, we can help. We offer a set of Back-to-School surveys, fact sheets, tips and other materials that can help children and parents navigate almost any challenge that they will face.

But sometimes, we need more than that. My son was starting fifth grade the same day my daughter started first, and he eagerly and happily left the house, looking forward to the school year. Despite his enthusiasm and optimism, he began displaying serious signs of mental illness before the school year was over. He attempted suicide, was then hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with a serious mental illness. It’s not really possible to predict which child will have a serious mental health problem and which one will turn out to have nothing more than a passing concern. We hope any issues our children will face will be minor, but it’s a good idea to plan our strategy in case they turn out not to be.

Let’s take three steps forward to give all of our children the best chance for success in school and in life:

  1. Treat mental health problems as seriously as we do every other health issue. Believe it or not, half of all mental illnesses emerge by the age of 14. These are not small anxieties that pass on their own, like the one that my six-year-old daughter had. These can be significant illnesses, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even psychosis. It is critical that you respond to mental health concerns quickly because that can make all the difference in restoring a child’s health and well-being.
  1. Understand that “mental illness” is not just one condition. Identifying the correct condition early is the key to developing the right plan to treat it. At Mental Health America, we have created a website,, with simple, easy-to-use screening tools to determine whether that low mood is a sign of depression, or that worry over homework and grades is a sign of anxiety, or whether changes in sleeping, bathing and eating patterns is a sign of something more serious. These tools won’t make a diagnosis for you, but they will give you either the reassurance that what you’re experiencing is typical or the information you need to follow up with professionals.
  1. Follow-up. Parents and teachers should talk together about how to meet the needs of children who do experience or live with mental illnesses, including whether special education or other services might be necessary. And they should always include a child’s clinicians in any discussion of how to meet those child’s needs in school and at home.

This made all the difference for me when my son was in the fifth grade. Despite all he went through, he managed to get through the school year successfully. As for my daughter, she aced first grade and was all set for second grade the following year!

Paul Gionfriddo is president and CEO of Mental Health America. He is also the author of “Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia” (Columbia University Press, 2014).