By Madeleine Voth, Urban Health Media Project participant and a student at Duke Ellington School of the Arts
“What happens when reality is so painful, that hiding away is the only option?” asked Amora Campbell, 16, of Washington, D.C.
Campbell, a senior at Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, spoke at the October 20 launch of the Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, a collaborative effort that includes Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Fund and is targeting the mental health crisis in youth, especially those who are LGBTQ, of color, or both.
Fund director Solomé Tibebu explained her motivation for joining the cause: “I have been a mental health advocate since I was a teenager when I first started experiencing anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Since then, I have committed myself to changing the mental health system, especially for our most vulnerable populations, which includes adolescents.”
Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company was created by Gates to help move social progress forward in the United States. The fund is led by Tibebu, powered by Panorama Global, and advised by a group of mental health experts with extensive experience and a passion for supporting youth and their communities.
Research has shown that there is an increased need to focus on LGBTQ teens and teens of color. Rates of depression for adolescents of color are on the rise. LGBTQ identifying teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than non-LGBTQ identifying teens. And not only are these populations more likely to develop a mental health condition, but they’re also less likely to get the care they need. Adolescents of color have 48% fewer visits to mental health providers than their white counterparts.
“The coronavirus pandemic has only made the situation worse,” said Tibebu.
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have left some adolescents – especially those who identify as LGBTQ – at increased risk of harm, abuse, and mental health impacts.”
“The world is scary and changing with no peace in sight,” said Campbell. “My friends and I talk for hours about environmental doom. But, how can I help with government benefits and kindness as my only means of survival?”
Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, a psychologist, podcast host, and founder of the mental health nonprofit, the AAKOMA Project, reminded young people listening that they are valuable.
“Because you don’t hear it enough…you need to know that you are valuable, simply because you exist,” said Breland-Noble. “This is important for our young people’s mental health, particularly our young people of color.”
Representation, she reminded, matters.
“My face here represents the commitment of The Upswing Fund to centering the needs of our marginalized youth,” she said. “This fund gives us an opportunity to remedy some of the lack of representation.”
Campbell finished on a positive note: “Upswing will change the statistics of those who feel hopeless and unwanted by the society they were born into. Together, we can make the world a better and safer place for kids, like me with mental illness.”