Nonprofit's film contest highlights youth perspectives on mental health, suicide prevention

Phillip Palmer Image
Saturday, June 8, 2024
Group raises mental health awareness through lens of young generation
The nonprofit Youth Creating Change's film contest raises awareness of mental health and suicide prevention through the lens of the young generation

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The prevalence of mental health issues in young people is hard to measure, but research has shown nearly half of high schoolers feel persistently sad or hopeless.

Youth Creating Change believes young people sharing stories about mental health is a way to offer encouragement and connection. The group's signature program, the Directing Change Film contest, recently honored student-created films expressing the filmmakers' perspectives on mental health and suicide prevention.

"Young people are creating these films on their iPhones with limited technology and they're coming up with genuine projects intended to reach their peers in a moment when they might be feeling low or at a low point and they need to see this help and their projects are amazing," said Jana Sczersputowski, the co-founder of Youth Creating Change.

Youth Creating Change partners with schools across the state throughout the year to provide curriculum, training and awareness activities to keep young people at the center of their own well-being.

The program has seen positive effects on school climates and increased student willingness to talk about important health topics.

"I've learned a bit about, not only just how to approach people with mental health issues, but if I'm going through a mental health issue myself, to open up and seek help," Jayden McKnight, a senior at Highland Park High School, described his experience.

Stan Collins, a co-founder of Youth Creating Change adds: "Let's normalize conversations about little hurts so that we're not sweeping it under the rug and hiding it in the closet until it becomes a combustible situation."

Reggie Hernandez is a senior at Highland Park High School and his film earned honorable mention out of 1,300 films submitted across the state. There are projects by teens centered on destigmatizing mental illness.

"It really brings their voice to life. Oftentimes adults miss the mark, so I think it's important that sometimes us as adults step aside and hear what the youth have to say about what their struggles are instead of us trying to explain it to them," said his principal, Irene Narvaez

Hernandez adds what he hopes people see in his film: "I hope people learn that it's okay to speak out about things, about personal issues, about things that are going on inside, and that they aren't crazy when they talk about it. They aren't just like a voice in the wind. We're listening, we're here for you."

At the height of the COVID pandemic, youth mental health was a topic many adults talked openly about... but with the masks gone, Youth Creating Change knows that now more than ever, it's important teens never feel alone.

Collins points out: "We spoke this message of youth mental health being important and they believed us, now we've got to follow through and now we've got to continue to show up."