Teens’ mental health is as important as physical health, say #ZeroReasonsWhy student leaders

Justine Helmuth (center holding microphone) and her fellow teens ask adults working in mental health about their perspectives on the continuum of care during the Mental Health Convening on Wednesday afternoon.

In its first Mental Health Convening meeting of 2020, the Zero Reasons Why Teen Council on Wednesday argued that the community should view the mental health of teens as a every bit as important as physical health.

The Mental Health Convening Group is a regular gathering led by the Zero Reasons Why Teen Council to advance their efforts focused on teen suicide prevention and mental wellness. During the session, members shared their comprehensive strategic plan to build community support for teens and their mental wellness, and improve or implement formal mental health education consistently and earlier.

“In so many ways, this is the teens’ call to action,” said Steff Hedenkamp, director of public affairs for Zero Reasons Why, noting all the work that has already been done by the Johnson County Mental Health Center, United Community Services of Johnson County and the Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition. “People need to engage. If folks agree with what the teens are saying, that mental health is equal to physical health, then what does that mean? What can everyone do?

“The better we make the system for teens, the better we make it for everybody. The campaign is a framework for how the community works together.”

Conversation grows beyond suicide prevention

For Justine Helmuth, a junior at SM North, Zero Reasons Why is an avenue for change; she shares their passion for the movement and has already seen positive outcomes.

“I feel like there’s ways that I can help; I’ve been in that situation before, so it’s so cool that somebody is finally speaking out about it,” Helmuth said. “It’s cool that people know that they’re not alone. I feel like if it keeps escalating, it can be a problem that we can finally solve. And it’s cool that us teens are leading it.”

John McKinney (right) shared about efforts by the Shawnee Mission School District to connect mental health resources with students and educators.

Teen organizers acknowledged that the conversation may have started with a focus on suicide prevention, but the campaign has grown to be much bigger than that. For instance, Wednesday afternoon’s convening addressed a wide range of mental health issues, such as anxiety, stress, bullying and childhood trauma, that affect teens’ quality of life and relationships.

The work of Zero Reasons Why continues outside of the mental health convenings, especially through social media and the Zero Reasons Why Portal, an online communications platform through which organizations and mental health professionals can share messages and mental health tools with each other, especially in terms of the continuum of care.

“When people say the system is broken, there are very functional pieces of the system, very good care and help and comfort,” Hedenkamp said. “And yet, if they don’t talk to one another, and the people in the community don’t understand, there’s less value there. We can do more to provide more value.”

And while the campaign continues to grow among teens and it spreads across the Kansas City metro area, Zero Reasons Why teens recognized that they need buy-in from trusted adults, especially parents and other adult family members who can help them reduce fiction when talking about mental health and actively participate in their mental well-being.

“The parents have to be OK with activating and helping their kid and not dismissing it or trying to discipline the issue away,” Hedenkamp said. “If the parent can’t be the advocate for the teen at that point and really help navigate the next period of time to work through it, that’s a problem.”

Livestream footage from the mental health session is below: