Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier
Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz
When I was a kid,
my mom and I made this deal.
I was allowed to take three
mental health rest days every semester
as long as I continued
to do well in school.
This was because I started
my mental health journey
when I was only six years old.
I was always what my grade-school teachers
would call "a worrier,"
but later on we found out
that I have trauma-induced anxiety
and clinical depression.
This made growing up pretty hard.
I was worried about a lot of things
that other kids weren't,
and school got really
This resulted in a lot of breakdowns,
panic attacks --
sometimes I was super productive,
and other days
I couldn't get anything done.
This was all happening during a time
when mental health
wasn't being talked about
as much as it is now,
especially youth mental health.
Some semesters I used
all of those rest days to the fullest.
Others, I didn't need any at all.
But the fact that they
were always an option
is what kept me a happy,
healthy and successful student.
Now I'm using those skills
that I learned as a kid
to help other students
with mental health challenges.
I'm here today to offer you some insight
into the world of teenage mental health:
what's going on, how did we get here
and what can we do?
But first you need to understand
that while not everyone has
a diagnosed mental illness like I do,
absolutely everyone --
all of you have mental health.
All of us have a brain
that needs to be cared for
in similar ways that we care
for our physical well-being.
Our head and our body are connected
by much more than just our neck after all.
Mental illness even manifests itself
in some physical ways,
such as nausea, headaches,
fatigue and shortness of breath.
So since mental health affects all of us,
shouldn't we be coming up with solutions
that are accessible to all of us?
That brings me to my second
part of my story.
When I was in high school
I had gotten pretty good
at managing my own mental health.
I was a successful student,
and I was president of the Oregon
Association of Student Councils.
But it was around this time
that I began to realize
mental health was much a bigger problem
than just for me personally.
Unfortunately, my hometown
was touched by multiple suicides
during my first year in high school.
I saw those tragedies
shake our entire community,
and as the president of a statewide group,
I began hearing more and more stories
from students where this had
also happened in their town.
So in 2018 at our annual summer camp,
we held a forum with about
100 high school students
to discuss teenage mental health.
What could we do?
We approached this conversation
with an enormous amount of empathy
and the results were astounding.
What struck me the most
was that every single one
of my peers had a story
about a mental health
crisis in their school,
no matter if they were
from a tiny town in eastern Oregon
or the very heart of Portland.
This was happening everywhere.
We even did some research,
and we found out that suicide
is the second leading cause of death
for youth ages 10 to 24 in Oregon.
The second leading cause.
We knew we had to do something.
So over the next few months,
we made a committee called
Students for a Healthy Oregon,
and we set out to end the stigma
against mental health.
We also wanted to prioritize
mental health in schools.
With the help of some lobbyists
and a few mental health professionals,
we put forth House Bill 2191.
This bill allows students to take
mental health days off from school
the same way you would
a physical health day.
Because oftentimes that day off
is the difference between
feeling a whole lot better
and a whole lot worse --
kind of like those days my mom
gave me when I was younger.
So over the next few months,
we lobbied and researched
and campaigned for our bill,
and in June of 2019
it was finally signed into law.
(Applause and cheers)
This was a groundbreaking moment
for Oregon students.
Here's an example
of how this is playing out now.
Let's say a student
is having a really hard month.
They're overwhelmed, overworked,
they're falling behind in school,
and they know they need help.
Maybe they've never talked about
mental health with their parents before,
but now they have a law on their side
to help initiate that conversation.
The parent still needs to be the one
to call the school and excuse the absence,
so it's not like
it's a free pass for the kids,
but most importantly,
now that school has that absence
recorded as a mental health day,
so they can keep track
of just how many students
take how many mental health days.
If a student takes too many,
they'll be referred
to the school counselor for a check-in.
This is important because we can
catch students who are struggling
before it's too late.
One of the main things we heard
at that forum in 2018
is that oftentimes stepping forward
and getting help is the hardest step.
We're hoping that this law
can help with that.
This not only will start teaching kids
young how to take care of themselves
and practice self-care
and stress management,
but it could also literally save lives.
Now students from multiple other states
are also trying to pass these laws.
I'm currently working with students
in both California and Colorado
to do the same,
because we believe
that students everywhere
deserve a chance to feel better.
Aside from all the practical
reasons and technicalities,
House Bill 2191 is really special
because of the core concept behind it:
that physical and mental health
are equal and should be treated as such.
In fact, they're connected.
Take health care for example.
Think about CPR.
If you were put in a situation
where you had to administer CPR,
would you know at least
a little bit of what to do?
Think to yourself --
most likely yes because CPR trainings
are offered in most schools, workplaces
and even online.
We even have songs that go with it.
But how about mental health care?
I know I was trained in CPR
in my seventh-grade health class.
What if I was trained in seventh grade
how to manage my mental health
or how to respond
to a mental health crisis?
I'd love to see a world
where each of us has a toolkit of skills
to help a friend, coworker, family member
or even stranger going through
a mental health crisis.
And these resources should be
especially available in schools
because that's where students
are struggling the most.
The other concept that I sincerely hope
you take with you today
is that it is always OK to not be OK,
and it is always OK to take a break.
It doesn't have to be a whole day;
sometimes that's not realistic.
But it can be a few moments here and there
to check in with yourself.
Think of life like a race ...
like a long-distance race.
If you sprint in the very beginning
you're going to get burnt out.
You may even hurt yourself
from pushing too hard.
But if you pace yourself,
if you take it slow,
and you push yourself other times,
you are sure to be way more successful.
look after each other,
look after the kids
and teens in your life
especially the ones that look
like they have it all together.
Mental health challenges
are not going away,
but as a society,
we can learn how to manage them
by looking after one another.
And look after yourself, too.
As my mom would say,
"Once in a while, take a break."