Part 1: Youth Speak Out for Mental Health Awareness Month
Homelessness is caused by traumatic events, and often leads to traumatic events, creating compounding layers of complex trauma that have serious consequences, often having a significant impact on mental health.
This week, we’re excited to kick off a three-part newsletter series dedicated to shining a spotlight on mental health. In this newsletter, we’re proud to amplify the voices of our youth. Next, we dive into the effective utilization of ARP-HCY funding to support mental health. Finally, we wrap up with a focus on the crucial topic of infant mental health.
Recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data show that high school students experiencing homelessness were more likely to have feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and to resort to self-harm and attempted suicide more often than their peers who do not experience homelessness.
In fact, students experiencing homelessness were three times more likely to attempt suicide compared to stably housed youth.
“The trauma from homelessness has stuck with me. One moment, I’ll be doing the dishes. Then, I’ll see my sink, and my counters, and ask myself when will I lose them? For me, homelessness has created a permanent sense of instability. I always have a bag packed. Some nights, I’ll sleep on my floor, so I don’t get too comfortable in my bed. In class, instead of doing math, I’ll start planning what I’ll do if I get kicked out again. It never leaves me. But I’ve learned from therapy, that these behaviors are remnants of survival – that my brain has learned to wire these behaviors to survive. My therapist taught me to question those responses. I’ve learned to not get mad at myself when I can’t focus in class. Instead, I’ve been trying to acknowledge my fear and reassure myself that I’m safe enough to focus on math. For me, therapy has been a place to acknowledge and understand my trauma. Therapy is a place for me to relearn my behaviors. Ultimately allowing me to create a life that is more fulfilling and meaningful to me.”
Despite their heightened risk for self-harm and suicide, children and youth experiencing homelessness face barriers to accessing mental health services: high mobility, lack of transportation, and lack of connectivity can prevent them for getting the help they need. If students experiencing homelessness are not identified by schools, they miss out on critical protections and services — including mental health services. This is particularly troubling because for many students experiencing homelessness, school is their sole mental health services provider, and may be their only opportunity to receive caring, individualized attention from adults. Without intentional and specific inclusion in and prioritization for school-based mental health efforts, some of our nation’s most vulnerable children and youth are unlikely to receive the help they desperately need.
“As an adolescent experiencing homelessness, I encountered a variety of trauma. This trauma was the root cause of my overall negative physical and mental well-being. My parents struggled to provide a place for me to live and food for me to eat, so mental health support was the last thing on their minds. I struggled to find resources for myself, as I was a black, gay kid, in a predominately white and christian community. My school did not offer much support either. With little help provided, I took to my friends for support. In school I surrounded myself with intelligent, like minded, peers who valued success. My friends gave me the optimism that I needed to do well in school, so I could make a life for myself. Without the mental health support of my friends, I do not know if I would be alive right now. They will forever be the therapist that restored my mental health when I needed it most.”
In this video, Lexi shares her struggle with mental health, feeling unwanted and unloved while moving between houses. She reached out for help but faced dismissal, leading to years of fear in seeking support. After reaching a breaking point, she encountered difficulties finding psychologists due to insurance issues. Eventually, Lexi sought help from local county services and expresses gratitude for the support received. She encourages others to seek help and reminds them that caring people are out there!
Stay tuned for Part Two of our mental health newsletter series, where we provide specific examples of districts effectively utilizing ARP-HCY funds to support mental health. Additionally, we will share practical strategies for identifying and reaching students experiencing homelessness. Don’t miss out on these valuable insights and actionable strategies in our next edition.