For young people and those invested in their happiness and success, the data around suicide rates tell an alarming story. In the United States, suicidal thoughts, attempts, and deaths have risen steadily for the past 10 years. According to the CDC, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 10-24, while childhood and adolescent depression and other mental health issues are also on the rise. And LGBT youth are particularly at risk, five times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers.
Although consensus around a particular cause has yet to emerge, World Suicide Prevention Day—held on September 10—unites advocates in the push to raise awareness and generate support around suicide prevention and mental health challenges that many people face.
Most notable among these advocates are young people themselves. From creating apps to organizing support groups to making resources more widely available, here’s how four young advocates are leading efforts to improve mental health for their generation.
Creating a Peer Support System through the Buddy Project
At the age of 15, Gabby Frost realized just how many of her friends were suffering with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. By connecting people together online, Gabby imagined a peer support system that could show teens they aren’t alone and prevent suicide.
Gabby “wanted to make a way for people to find a safe and loving community online. I wanted people to have a peer support system available to them and to feel accepted,” she told the Huffington Post.
That’s when she started Buddy Project, a non-profit that pairs people online and raises awareness for the mental health challenges that children, teens, and young adults experience. The organization offers support structures, companionship, resources, and education to reduce stigma and promote awareness and understanding around mental illness.
It was in 2014 that Satvik Sethi started responding to messages of depression and self-harm he’d stumbled upon on social media, listening and trying to help as individuals discussed how they were hurting. He began spending more and more time online, talking to and befriending hundreds of individuals.
Runway has since expanded to host public events and seminars that raise awareness around mental health issues, and offers a “positivity zone” website full of cheerful art, music, tips, and messages.
Organizing Support Groups with The Mental Elephant
After experiencing depression and anxiety throughout her adolescence, Miana Bryant founded The Mental Elephant as a freshman in college to raise awareness around and organize support groups for those suffering from mental illnesses. The organization provides interactive tools and resources on their website, curates a monthly newsletter, and runs a YouTube Channel.
“I started The Mental Elephant to give people the family and the sense of support that everyone wants and everyone needs,” said Bryant in a recently released video.
Amanda Southworth, 16, has struggled all her life with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Her sixth-grade robotics club turned Southworth’s life around, introducing her to the possibilities of web design, software development, and artificial intelligence.
“I was always very destructive toward myself. Coding is the opposite. It’s about creating. It’s about taking different characters on a keyboard and transforming them into something bigger than you,” Southworth told USA Today.
Eventually, she got the idea to build AnxietyHelper, an app that provides mental health toolkits to those experiencing mental illness, including information on signs, treatments, and coping methods. The app even has a panic attack system that supports, comforts, and guides individuals in the midst of a panic attack.
Together, AnxietyHelper and a follow-up app, Verena (a security system for LGBT individuals), have been downloaded more than 82,000 times. Despite this success, Southworth isn’t satisfied. She’s eager to launch her next idea: an app that uses machine learning to help people with schizophrenia determine whether they’re experiencing hallucinations.
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