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PA Youth Advocacy Network Unites Activists for Mental Health Awareness Month

The PA Youth Advocacy Network recognized the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month with several youth-centered events. Since 2018, the Network, a program of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, has activated youth and adults across Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania to call for change and promote teen mental health with skills-building and advocacy opportunities.

Signing of the Teen Mental Health Awareness Day proclamation at the Allegheny County Council on May 24, 2022. Pictured (left to right): Front row, County Council Member Olivia "Liv" Bennett, primary sponsor of the declaration; Mohammad Shedeed, teen activist; and Sarah Pesi, policy associate at JHF. Back row, members of the Council.

In May, the Network closed out a series developed with the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA, titled Where Mentoring and Youth Mental Health Meet. The monthly series began in February and offered four sessions in which caring adults explored the role strong relationships between adults and young people and between young people and their peers play in youth mental health. In addition, a bonus session focused on creating a mental health safety plan. Youth involved with mentoring programs joined the third session for a youth voice panel, in which they shared their stories and insights on best practices for youth outreach and peer supports. The Mentoring Partnership provided event summaries and tools for participants to use in their work, which are available on the Mentoring Partnership website.

On Mental Health Day of Action, May 19, the PA Youth Advocacy Network teamed up with the PA CARE Partnership to hold a statewide youth panel titled The Pandemic has Created a Mental Health Crisis: Schools, Mental Health, and What Teens Have to Say. Five youth advocates from across Pennsylvania spoke about their work as advocates, especially around the topic of mental health and what teens need in school and in their day-to-day lives. The youth also fielded questions from adults in the audience and provided insight on how adults can promote teen mental health. A recording of the panel is available here.

The Network celebrated Teen Mental Health Awareness Day by hosting the Rally Across PA! Celebrate Teen Mental Health Advocates event on May 22. This day was declared in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Governor Tom Wolf, in Allegheny County by the Allegheny County Council, and in Luzerne County by the Luzerne County Council, all of whom passed proclamations written by youth advocates as part of the Network's advocacy efforts. Governor Wolf also recorded a video message to recognize and congratulate the youth leaders, which was played during the event. Youth leaders presented on teen mental health policy priorities, opportunities to get started in advocacy, and everyday activism, and they called for adult involvement across the Commonwealth.

This is the second consecutive year in which Teen Mental Health Awareness Day has been recognized with proclamations authored by PA Youth Advocacy Network advocates. Read more about the 2021 celebration and proclamation here: May 23 Declared Teen Mental Health Awareness Day in Pennsylvania and City of Pittsburgh.

Missing from these exciting teen mental health events was JHF Adolescent Behavioral Health Initiative Program Manager Deborah Murdoch, MPH. But her absence was linked to a joyous event—she welcomed a baby daughter, Eleanor Grace Ash, on May 7!

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