Last year, the Teen Advisory Committee (TAC)—a body of 30+ teens from schools across North West Louisiana—decided data was needed to back up their assertion that policy makers should address the issue of teen mental wellbeing. So, they got to work. Over the past year, these determined young changemakers designed a survey, then collected and analyzed responses from over 5,000 young people about their mental health challenges and needs.

Recently, their remarkable efforts reached a milestone. Members of the TAC delivered data-driven policy recommendations to school superintendents from two districts. As the Shreveport Times reported, the response from officials was positive. Below, high school students and TAC members Jaden Glover and David Shaw share their perspectives, insights into the process, and hopes for the future.

First, congratulations! This was a long journey—describe the process of putting the survey together and getting it out there.

Jaden Glover, Professional Development Chair, TAC: 

It took a ton of collaboration to come up with questions and answer choices. We also had to execute numerous modifications, so the survey was appropriate—not too lax, but not too intimidating. It was not an easy process, but it was well worth it.

David Shaw, Treasurer, TAC:

This survey was created by our TAC members alongside mental health professionals and community leaders across Shreveport and Bossier parishes. Formulating questions while not inserting any bias was a challenge, but we were able to come up with a series of questions that led us to some very valuable results.

What do the findings reveal about how student mental well being is handled in the school environment, and how it should improve?

Jaden: Our findings show there needs to be a change in the school environment when it comes to the connection between students and the adults—such as teachers and counselors—that they confide in. These adults need better information on how to deal with what the students are confiding.

David: Students in our area are genuinely struggling with mental health challenges on a daily basis. Schools should be equipped to help students face any mental health challenge they may encounter in any setting. Our recommendations show what teens think is the best way to encourage students to seek support for mental health challenges. A lack of engagement with the provided mental health tools was one of the biggest problems found in our survey.

After collecting and analyzing the data, how did you arrive at specific policy recommendations?

Jaden: Our recommendations are from students, for students! All the information was presented at a virtual Teen Summit where we, the TAC members, acted as facilitators. We presented the information gathered from the survey and asked for opinions and solutions. The students at the Summit were the ones who decided on what they wanted to see change—the recommendations came from them.

David: The delegates at our Summit were not TAC members—we wanted new ideas from students who do not normally speak out in their school setting. We sought out bright students who may not have had a previous chance to make their voices heard so that our recommendations could be from a fresh youth perspective.

The issue of mental wellbeing seems more important than ever—how do your findings and recommendations connect with the COVID-19 crisis?

Jaden: Since the pandemic, students are at home dealing with their emotions alone. For some students, going to school is an escape—socializing with other people leads them away from depression. This crisis prevents that from happening. The recommendations focus on improving the ways that students can connect with adults such as teachers and counselors so that they will have someone to confide in and get the help that they need. These recommendations, when put into effect, will help tremendously with the aftermath of the crisis.

David: The students from our survey are currently at home without the support system schools provide.Our data shows that it is necessary for students to have access to virtual mental wellness tools during this pandemic. Students will still be facing the challenges associated with this pandemic when we return to school, so a more streamlined process for mental health tools is needed now more than ever.

What do you hope will be the result of your recommendations to the school board?

Jaden: I’m hoping that once these changes go into effect, it’ll prevent a student from feeling lonely, help someone regain positive mental health, and save a life. There are so many tragic instances that could have been prevented if someone got the help that they needed. These recommendations to the school board will help educate school staff and students so that we can live in an informed community to keep students on track to a successful life. Mental health plays an essential part in that.

David: I hope to see these recommendations make an impact in our school system. I have faith that the Caddo and Bossier school boards and superintendents will work hard to put our recommendations into place as best as they possibly can. I would love to see the TAC guidelines make a difference in a student’s life and potentially create an emboldened confidence in the mental health services provided by our schools.

The Teen Advisory Committee (TAC) was formed by Step Forward, with training and funding provided by IYF's LEAPS initiative.