Fourteen-year-old Adriana Chavez is a high school student in Vista, California. She has seen firsthand how the pandemic, social media, and the news have impacted the mental health of her peers. So, when she had the opportunity in her video production class to be a part of making a film on teen mental health, she jumped at it. Her team went on to win an award in the Directing Change film contest, sponsored by Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky youth mental health initiative.
Based in San Diego, Directing Change engages young people to learn about suicide prevention and mental health, and then educate their peers through creative filmmaking.
Chavez and her team’s film, “Dear Future Me,” features students who assure their future selves that although their teen years are hard, they will make it: “All these challenges you face: the discrimination, the name-calling, and the loneliness – it doesn’t stop you from succeeding, and it doesn’t stop you from finding happiness.”
The film encourages youth to reach out to trusted adults, look at real-world superheroes who put their mental health first – like Olympic gymnast Simon Biles – and most importantly, tap into their strengths.
“We wanted to give light to the things young people struggle with,” said Chavez. “Like fitting in with people and feeling different. Whether it’s looking at the fake personas other people create on social media and comparing yourself or being LGBTQ and being judged for that.”
Empowering youth to educate peers
Chavez’s film team was comprised of six youth. They were among nearly 2,500 young people, from 135 California schools, who submitted 939 films to the Directing Change film contest earlier this year. For the third year, Blue Shield’s youth mental health initiative, BlueSky, helped fund the contest. Roughly 50 Blue Shield employees volunteered to judge five film categories.
“COVID-19 has taken a toll on youth mental health, and this filmmaking competition has opened doors in classrooms, in communities, and most importantly, in young people’s minds,” said Antoinette Mayer, Blue Shield of California vice president of Corporate Citizenship. “It’s one thing for adults to talk to youth about mental health, but this initiative takes youth engagement to a whole other level. Through filmmaking and artistic expression, students are talking peer-to-peer about mental health challenges and how to cope.”
Pandemic intensifies mental health challenges
Youth mental health challenges were already on the rise before the pandemic. However, the fear of getting COVID-19, isolation resulting from school closures, social unrest, and the loss of loved ones have pushed depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide to all-time highs.
According to a 2021 survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly one in three California high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. Nearly one in five reported they have seriously considered attempting suicide. And most disturbingly, the CDC reports a 22.3 percent increase in emergency room visits during the pandemic for potential suicides by youth, ages 12-17.
According to Chavez, connecting with others is the biggest part of overcoming mental health challenges. “Everyone has someone they can go to, even if they don’t have a good relationship with their parents. It can be a teacher or guidance counselor. It’s important to realize that you are not alone, and there’s someone there,” she said.
Youth mental health resources
- For more on Blue Shield of California’s youth mental health initiative, BlueSky, click here.
- To watch Directing Change youth films click here (https://directingchangeca.org/films/)
- If you or someone you know is having a mental health emergency, call 911.
- If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is open 24/7.
- And if you are a teen who just needs a peer to talk to, there’s the Teen Line, a confidential hotline that is open every evening, 6-10 p.m. (PST). Volunteers who answer the calls, emails, and texts are other teens who have received specialized training. They won’t judge you or give advice – their job is to listen to your feelings and help you to clarify your concerns, define the options available to you, and help you make positive decisions. No problem is too small, too large, or too shocking.
- Call: 800-TLC-TEEN (852-8336) from 6-10 PM PST
- Text “TEEN” to 839863
- Talk via their app: https://teenlineonline.org/talk-now
- Teen Line also offers message boards, resources, and information