Kindness resonates significantly among young people, helping to shape their emotional well-being and overall development. Born This Way Foundation, established in 2012 by singer Lady Gaga, published a study titled “Kind Communities – A Bridge to Youth Mental Wellness” in July 2017. The online study, undertaken in association with the Benenson Strategy Group, focused on mental health and wellness issues among the youth. Participants included over 3,000 young people aged between 15 and 24 years and over 1,000 parents.
The study highlighted the following key points that matter a lot:
- Kindness: Young people, comprising students in high schools, colleges/universities and working youth, tend to experience better mental health in “kind” environments/communities.
- Peers: Young people depend on friends and peer relationships for their mental well-being.
- Resources: Youth with access to tangible resources have better mental health. They also want to be empowered to help themselves and their friends in case of a mental health crisis.
The study found that 79 percent students who perceived their high school environment as kind had the highest mental health scores. For university students and young working people, this corresponded to 70 percent and 75 percent, respectively. Overall, 57 percent young people considered their mental health to be a “very important priority,” compared to 51 percent who felt the same about their physical health.
Young people lack resources to deal with mental health issues
The study found that 26 percent high school students reported being “very nervous” during the whole or part of the previous month, whereas 29 percent and 20 percent of university students and working youth, respectively, reported such a mood. While 49 percent high school students admitted being “stressed”, which was significantly higher at 68 percent and 62 percent in case of university students and working youth, respectively.
Although mental health is valued by the majority of the youth, they often lack the knowledge or the resources to deal with stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions. A case in point is how 44 percent high school students report that mental health issues are not addressed in any of their classes at school. Among working youth, only 40 percent were sure that their workplace offers health insurance covering mental health issues; 40 percent stated that no such service was offered and 20 percent were unsure.
Attributes of “kind” high schools included teachers who greeted students in the morning, classes that discussed mental health and peers who demonstrated inclusive behavioral traits. Sadly, 38 percent high school students reported that these attributes were missing in their schools. Attributes of “kind” colleges included availability of free mental health counseling for students, stress alleviation measures such as yoga or meditation, and access to on-campus lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) centers. It was found that 34 percent students had access to these resources on campus whereas 15 percent lacked them. Attributes of “kind” workplaces included managers interacting with employees often, availability of resources for women and minority groups and mentorship program for young employees. Unfortunately, only 7 percent employed professionals reported to have access to these resources.
The results also highlight a substantial mismatch between the perceptions of young people and those of parents regarding mutual interactions In difficult situations. According to the study, “parents significantly overestimate” the likelihood of their children turning to them to discuss important topics. Although stress is a major mental health challenge, parents underestimate their children’s struggles, especially in the case of college students. Although young people turn to parents for issues related to “physical well-being and safety,” they depend on close friends to discuss “social challenges and body image issues.”
Recovery road map
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mental disorders are common among American children, with nearly one in five experiencing a serious mental illness during their lifetime. The onset of most mental illnesses takes place before the age of 24. Although mental disorders strike irrespective of gender, young men are less likely to seek help than young women. The study’s results show that tangible measures such as kind communities, peer networks and availability of adequate mental health resources can support young people in opening up about their mental health.
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