Teens open up about challenges impacting youth mental health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and teens talk about some common stressors like social media.
We recently sat down with a group of teens for a roundtable discussion on some of the challenges they're facing.
Updated: May. 10, 2023 at 6:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and local teenagers open up about some of the stressors youth face today.

Before the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns nearly three years ago, children and teens were already navigating a world much different than the one most adults grew up in.

One big difference is social media and its ability to spread sometimes hurtful and unrealistic social standards quickly.

Henrico County Public Schools senior MalaKai Lee, who sat down with NBC12 for a student roundtable discussion, said finding a safe space to be his authentic self has not always been easy.

“I identify as transgender, and so I work very hard to look the way that I look and walk the way that I walk,” Lee said. “When I see things on social media that disregard things that are very negative towards my identity and who I am, and who I’m becoming, I just I tend to get a little down.”

Imani Adewale, a Richmond Public School system senior, has also had some challenging moments.

“People would post things and be like, oh, ‘Females are supposed to look like this, that and the third,’ and then I would look at myself and go, I don’t look like that, is something wrong with me?” said Adewale, who has since written and published a book on self-love.

Both Lee and Adewale say they have overcome the pressure to conform to superficial standards and, instead, learned to love and embrace themselves.

“I’ve gotten to a point in my life where it’s like, ‘that is your current opinion,’ but I know that I’m great, and I know that I’m destined for greatness,” Lee said.

Adewale says the adversity has made her stronger.

“I had to sit down and realize what’s important to me and what’s not,” she said.

A study by The Huffington Post found that 60% of people who use social media reported a negative impact on their self-esteem; 50% said social media negatively impacted their relationships, and 80% acknowledged that it is easy to be deceived by others.

Another issue discussed that has been tied to mental health and social platforms is cyberbullying.

“You don’t even know the person, and you’re just picking on them,” said Adewale, who expressed how upset this makes her. ”I hate any type of bullying, especially cyberbullying.”

Lee said he was bullied growing up because he was different from others. He understands how bullying can make some people feel.

“It can really break a person,” Lee said. “It could really make you think that you don’t deserve things as simple as life.”

But Lee wants everyone to remember this: “No matter where you are, who you are and how you are, you definitely matter in this world.”

If you’d like to learn the warnings for child and adolescent mental health, the National Institute of Mental Health has outlined them here.

For tips on how to prevent or stop bullying, visit here.