WASHINGTON, D.C. — The transition from high school to adulthood is challenging for any teenager, but it can be particularly difficult for young people dealing with mental health challenges.
Federal lawmakers heard from a Pennsylvania High School student Wednesday about her own struggles and how to empower teens in need.
Brooklyn Williams was just 13-years-old when she lost her mother to breast cancer.
“The following year was a blur of numbness and therapy sessions,” Williams recalled at a Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families hearing Wednesday
Williams testified about her own struggles with anxiety and depression in the wake of her loss.
As a way to cope, Williams said she found comfort in painting and crafts, inspiring her to start what’s called the “Chill Club” at her school in Western Pennsylvania. It’s an offshoot of the Allegheny Health Network’s Chill Project.
Students do crafts, yoga, and mediation to cope with mental health challenges.
“I thought if this is making me feel better, then maybe it will make others feel better too,” Williams told the subcommittee members.
Her testimony highlighted the struggles many teens around the country face.
According to lawmakers, about half of all people who experience a mental health condition start having symptoms by age 14, meaning high school is a critical time for addressing their needs.
“To reach every student, we need all hands on deck,” Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey said at the hearing. “That means far more mental health professionals.””Three years of COVID have just had their toll upon the mental health of adolescents and college students,” Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy added.
Youth mental health experts at the hearing called on congress to invest more in access to mental health services for kids at home and at school.
“Establish comprehensive school mental health systems in all schools,” said Dr. Sharon Hoover, Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the National Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Williams, meanwhile, urged lawmakers to act quickly.
“I feel like schools and communities only intervene when it becomes intensely severe, or in unfortunate cases, too late,” Williams said.
The lawmakers on the committee say around one in five teens in the country meet the criteria for a mental health condition.
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