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. According to a new CDC study, the percentage of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent from 2009 to 2021. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded. As adults, we can and should always provide a safe space for you to honestly share your struggles. 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.
We are continually learning about how to best provide these opportunities. In a recent survey we wanted to better understand how teens feel about the environment and their evolving relationship with the outdoor world. The findings were clear, young people who spend more time outside are happier and less stressed. 4-H’s approach to outdoor education puts a focus on healthier living and inclusion for all, challenging and encouraging young people to engage in, and build a life-long appreciation for, the outdoors. In other words, you don’t have to do it alone.
So, I am writing this open letter 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 connect 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.