From climate change to school shootings to social media and the pandemic, teenagers today are facing pressures their parents rarely, if ever, encountered. These newer sources of stress contribute to a rise in mental health struggles among adolescents.
While some 70% of teens across all genders, races, and family income levels say anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers, it’s not always easy for teens to talk about these issues or know where to turn for help. That’s why Blue Shield of California's BlueSky program partnered with DoSomething.org, the online hub for youth-centered activism, to create the Vibe Check program. Vibe Check aims to open real conversations about mental health, steer teens toward reliable resources, and help them discuss challenges they or their friends may have.
The program's centerpiece is the downloadable DoSomething Vibe Check Guide, which equips teens with the tools to have meaningful conversations about mental health with their peers and their communities. The guide includes tips for active listening, conversation starters, and resources. "The guide is awesome, from the design, colors, and how it's written with teens in mind, without adults trying to use teenage jargon. I thought it was very respectful of teenagers and their intelligence level," said Maya Gomez, a senior at Whitney High School near Sacramento and mental health advocate.
“Sometimes it’s hard for teens -- and adults for that matter -- to know how to start a conversation about mental health,” said Nicole Stelter, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and director of behavioral health for Blue Shield of California. .“Often times people will avoid these conversations because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing,” Stelter says. “But the simplest show of support, like asking them how they’re feeling or offering support is all you need to do.”
Building a support system
For teens that hear of a friend considering suicide or self-harm, immediately tell a trusted adult – such as a parent, friend’s parent, teacher, coach, or pastor – and encourage the friend to call 988, the national mental helpline. DeNora Getachew, Chief Executive Officer of DoSomething agrees, "Taking care of mental health is a part of overall health and well-being. Just because you can't see the pain, as you can with a broken arm, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
The Vibe Check Guide provides a curated list of websites and phone numbers teens can contact for emergency and non-emergency help. The guide also shares tips on how to build a support system through communications (both sharing and listening):
- Can we talk? Tell an adult (parent, guardian, or family friend) that you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure what to do about it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance for yourself, a friend, or a loved one.
- Find a friend. Reach out to a friend when you’re feeling lonely or don’t want to be alone with your thoughts and feelings.
- Write it down. Sometimes saying how you feel can be scary. Writing down feelings can stop mental cycling and help clear the mind.
- Are you listening? Check in with family and friends and really listen. Sometimes, they may want to vent, ask for help, or just be heard.
- Get connected. Be available and dedicate time to connect. Scheduling regular “hang time” allows space to be heard and to listen.
Check out the DoSomething Vibe Check Guide for more tips, tools, and resources.
"The greatest gift we can give our peers when it comes to mental health is to walk alongside them and let them know they are not alone in what they are facing,” said 18-year-old Gabriella, who participated in the Vibe Check program. “Instilling and reinforcing positive thoughts and actions, like those outlined in the guide, help build healthy habits, and know the many mental health resources at our disposal."
“We are glad the collaboration between our BlueSky program and DoSomething produced an important guide that will hopefully open more doors for young people to have honest and meaningful conversations about their mental health,” Stelter said.
Established in 2019, BlueSky is Blue Shield’s signature youth mental health initiative, investing in best-in-class youth mental health programs that incorporate youth voices to bridge the gap between stigma and empowerment, especially among underrepresented youth. For more on BlueSky, click here.