Teens take steps for mental health

Walk the Walk helps The Community House offer counseling on a sliding scale

About 2.7 million youth are experiencing severe major depression.

Sixty percent of youth with major depression do not receive mental health treatment.

Some 1.2 million U.S. youth with private insurance do not have coverage for mental or emotional challenges.

Hinsdale Central juniors Maya Menon, Moria Hughes and Kavya Ravi are working to do what they can to change those statistics. The Junior Board members at The Community House have been helping to plan the Walk the Walk for Mental Health, set for May 21. (See Page 30 for details.)

High school is a challenging time, Menon said, especially for teens who went through the pandemic their freshman year.

"I've seen a lot of people struggle with mental health - people of all ages," Menon said. "It's really important to show that it's something we should be afraid to talk about because every person experiences it."

Seventy percent of people who receive counseling at The Community House are younger than 24, Menon said. And they are able to access those services on a sliding scale, Ravi noted.

"The other thing that's really cool about the services The Community House provides is that the cost isn't always the same, because a lot of people can't pay for the services they need," Ravi said. "It shouldn't just be the people who can afford it who have access."

The event itself can be a springboard for conversation about mental health, Hughes said, and a way to create community.

"I think Walk the Walk is a neat way for everyone to support their community members," she said. "I'm most looking forward to seeing all of the families and everyone come together to participate."

Following the one-mile color walk, participants can enjoy music, food trucks, games, vendors and face painters.

Menon is co-president of the Junior Board this year and Hughes and Ravi are the event liaisons. As they work on publicity, they've kept their target audience in mind.

"One big thing that we've been doing is making Tik Toks and using that to promote the walk because obviously that's really huge with teenagers, and so that's something that we've done that's a little bit different than year's past," Ravi said.

Their favorite features Forrest Gump running down the street with a "Walk, don't run" message.

"Something else that we've been doing is going and talking to the local schools at the elementary and middle schools and presenting it at their lunch periods about the walk and getting the students excited about signing up," Hughes said.

The District 181 elementary school with the most participants will win the Big Blue Shoe award. Ravi donned a Big Blue Shoe costume when she went to talk to kids at Elm School.

"It was cool how into it all the kids were and how much they knew about mental health," she said.

Dan Janowick, executive director at The Community House, said the junior board members have done a wonderful job planning the event.

"I think for me, as a parent of a high schooler, it's inspiring to see young people who want to give back to their community," he said. "For this group specifically, their willingness to talk about mental health in a way my generation probably never would have is an important part of what they are trying to accomplish."

Janowick said he expects almost 500 people will participate.

"There was a lot of excitement last year with it being a color walk. People really enjoyed it," he said. "The word has spread."

Last year the event raised $30,000 to help pay for highly qualified therapists provide some 1,500 sessions a year of therapy. Janowick noted that the number of counselors who provide care on a sliding scale is dwindling. And demand is increasing.

"This is a need that is not going away," he said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean