An Open Letter to Young People from Jennifer Sirangelo

Have you ever wondered what mental health really is? Experts define it as our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health impacts our thoughts, feelings, physical health, and actions in everyday life. Now, I am by no means a mental health expert. I can’t speak to the best positive mental health practices because each of us is unique, and we all manage our mental health differently. But what I can do is share my own experiences with mental health. And more importantly, I can encourage openness, acceptance, honesty and support when it comes to the mental health of America’s youth.

Young people are resilient, but your needs are often overlooked. You deal with the pressures of growing up while connected 24-hours a day to your community through your phone. You work to fit in – while embracing your individuality and standing out from the crowd. You’re held to so many high standards—success, beauty, intelligence, popularity.

I understand what you are going through because I was you. And in many ways, I am still you. I experience moments of high stress, anxiety, and self-doubt. But as an adult, I can seek out the resources I need to help cope. I know it’s not always easy for you.

You’re facing a whole new world of challenges, and it’s our job as adults to listen and respond. In 4-H’s most recent mental health survey, we had a glimpse into the uncertainties many teens like you are feeling and unlocked some hard truths about teen mental health (45% of teens surveyed say they ignore their mental health issues). In Cooperative Extension’s 4‑H program, we aim to empower you with resources to overcome the obstacles you face today and grow into the leader you want to be.

In other words, you don’t have to do it alone. As adults, we can and should always provide a safe space for you to honestly share your struggles.

So, I am writing this open letter to you to say: your mental health matters. You can find a sense of belonging in 4-H. We are committed to providing the space you need to cope and connecting you with caring adult mentors who will listen and come alongside you with resources that can help.

Every day, you inspire me. I watch young people like you take on mental health with so much conviction. From rallying within your community to speaking out and protecting your friends online, you lead and advocate for your peers in a way that no one else can. You’ve found your purpose. I see your courage and I’m inspired.

Never stop being honest about your mental health and reaching out to the adults who can help.

Find your local 4-H.