An insidious problem is lurking in Kentucky’s schools: Students across the state are reporting high amounts of psychological stress, anxiety, and depression. The problem has become so bad that suicide is now the second leading cause of death for the state’s youth.
While nationally, mental health awareness has increased, for Kentucky’s teenagers, the issue isn’t getting nearly enough attention. During her sophomore year, Kentucky high schooler Allison Tu realized mental health was being treated like an afterthought in her school. “One student told me that all of their suicide prevention education, which is mandated, technically, by Kentucky law but left up to districts to administer, is just a bookmark,” Tu explained to The Week. “A literal, physical bookmark that has a suicide prevention hotline number on it, and that was it.”
This felt to Tu like the equivalent of a shoulder shrug. Stress and anxiety don’t come with a power-off button for teenagers; it seeps in through peer pressure, and lingers on social media. It’s exacerbated by an overwhelming sense that one needs to have their entire life mapped out at 16. Tu wanted more focus on helping her peers battle mental health problems, and she figured that if the adults in the room weren’t going to make it a priority, the students would have to take things into their own hands. So in 2016, she founded StAMINA (Student Alliance for Mental Health Innovation and Action), which she calls “a network of really passionate students who are dedicated to improving mental health through a bottom-up approach.”
StAMINA’s goal is to let teenagers talk about mental health in a way that makes sense to them. “I noticed there was such a significant lack of student voice when it came to mental health,” says Tu, who is now a senior. In the two years since the group’s founding, its leadership team has grown to include a dozen students across the state. They connect weekly via video calls and discuss ways to raise the conversation. And the group isn’t messing around: It has partnered with a handful of organizations, including Kentucky Education Television, the Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children, and the Kentucky Attorney General’s office to raise awareness locally. It also recently hosted a Youth Mental Health Ideathon where community stakeholders gathered to brainstorm ideas for new policies and programs addressing challenges in youth mental health services.
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Source:: Health – The Week