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Youth Advocacy Series Finale Brings Mental Health Needs into Focus for Legislators and Advocates

The PA Youth Advocacy Network, a program of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF), launched the 2023 Teen Mental Health Advocacy Series on February 1 with the youth presenting their final advocacy projects during the virtual finale on March 29.

This was the second annual series connecting Pennsylvania high school students with advocacy skills, such as communicating their cause, using data for advocacy, and coalition-building.

The 19 participants represented seven counties across the commonwealth including Allegheny, Lancaster, Luzerne, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Washington, and York. The students range from grades 9-12 and have varied experiences exploring and leading advocacy initiatives in their schools and communities. The Advocacy Series builds on JHF's years of efforts to call for change in teen mental health through the PA Youth Advocacy Network.

The finale offered an opportunity for students to get feedback on projects from leaders at mental health organizations and legislators. Providing framing to the group discussion, Sarah Pesi, policy associate at JHF, shared, "Many of the projects are focused on what teens hope to impact on the local level within their schools. Your perspectives will provide insights on to larger systemic changes that could require state policy changes to support these types of student-led initiatives and resources you know of that can support students and existing efforts they might be able to leverage."

Youth projects included:

  • The important role of schools to address mental health and substance use disorder from implementing curriculum, increasing services, and making sure the environment of schools is a place where students feel safe and supported;

  • Addressing stigma around mental health and substance use disorder and the Importance of Peer Support including education efforts, forming clubs, different ways to talk about the issues to address stigma, and ways for teens to be supports to each other;

  • Issues of inclusion and equity including social inclusion, rural and telehealth access, access to therapeutic services for all, disability inclusion, the impact of period poverty on mental health, and affirming resources for LGBTQ+ mental health.

During the virtual finale, students presented their final projects to family, friends, mental health advocates, and legislators. Distinguished guests included: Rep. Napoleon Nelson; Rep. Dan Miller; Alexis Trbovich, representing State Sen. Devlin Robinson; Tess Hoffert, representing State Sen. Judy Schwank; and JHF Board president Debra Caplan.

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