By Chase Langos on Tuesday, May 17, 2022
When discussing mental health across our communities one group is often left out, children and young adults. One Iowa high schooler is looking to change that. By analyzing other mental health programs and talking to fellow teens, Lily Glenn identified where mental health messaging falls short with young people and is using every resource available to her to change that.
Lily is an 18-year-old high school senior at Ottumwa High School, and her resume is extremely impressive for her age. She participates in her high school Orchestra, serves on the Orchestra leadership committee, participates in 4-H, County Council (for Wapello County), and is active in her community through her youth group. She is also a member of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC). SIYAC has just 21 members, ages 14-20 with new members selected in June every year for two-year terms.
SIYAC’s purpose is to “foster communication between a group of engaged youth from across Iowa and the governor, general assembly, and state and local policymakers regarding programs, policies, and practices affecting youth and families; and to advocate for youth on important issues affecting youth”. When deciding what issues to bring to the policy makers, Lily and her fellow SIYAC members followed the findings of a survey of 386 youth from Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). The most popular answer? Youth mental health. “Everything in the world has changed,” Lily said, “[it changed] so quickly that it’s overwhelming for youth”.
SIYAC took this input and ran with it. They identified a problem with the mental health messaging within Iowa; it wasn’t geared towards people their age. In April, the committee members looked at other programs focused on mental health for youth across Iowa and beyond. Compiling the best aspects and details from these programs into a pamphlet that will be distributed to schools and similar key institutions to guide them on what successful youth mental health programs look like. They hope policy makers will receive the information and enact it in their own institutions in meaningful ways; with hands-on programs youth can get invested in, instead of sitting through more lectures that kids will tune out.
Lily didn’t stop her work on mental health there. She recently reached out to Jami Haberl, executive director of the Healthiest State Initiative, to provide a youth perspective for the Make It OK campaign. Speaking on her work with Make It OK she said, “We have a lot of ideas, I’m excited to see where it goes.”
She also attended a school expo where she shared information about Make It OK and SIYAC with the help of her school’s mental health counselor.
Her fellow SIYAC members are doing their part as well. Lily mentioned a fellow member, Trey Voller, who with the help of his school administrators, put on a full day ‘job fair’ like event focused on mental health. Various exhibitors came to set up tables to present information related to mental health and every grade was cycled through during the day to have a chance to speak with the exhibitors.
The stress of the past few years has put the youth in our state and country through a prolonged traumatizing experience. With young leaders like these however, we can be hopeful that the discussion around mental health won’t go away anytime soon. Lily herself was hopeful about the future of youth mental health. “Youth just want acceptance,” she said, “kids feel like they can be kids again.” By tackling this issue head on at their age, young adults like Lily have a huge head start on ending the stigma around mental illness for the next generation and hopefully, for good.
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