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Radar Mental Health GenZ Wellness Summit

By Reese L.

Mental health has become a big topic at CPS, at many schools, and indeed it seems for our time and generation. The pandemic, our politics, the economy, international conflicts, social media, and college admissions are often cited as possibly contributing factors. But what is mental health? The CDC describes mental health as “includ[ing] our emotional, psychological, and social well-being” and “affect[ing] how we think, feel, and act.” I have been interested in this topic of mental health for a long time. On February 25, I was fortunate to attend the Gen Z Wellness Summit at UCLA, held in the Luskin Conference Center ballroom. The theme of this year’s event was “We Are All in This Together,” and I was one of over 600 people in attendance. At this event, there were panels about advocacy, social media, addiction, relationships, and other important topics relating to teen mental health. Keynote speakers included actress Lili Reinhart, 19-season NBA Lakers player Metta Sandiford-Artest, singer and musician Clinton Kane, and TikTok star Jacob Sartorius. 

This was a very inspiring event, and there were many informative panels, speakers and topics. One that I found helpful focused on the importance of self-advocacy and communicating effectively in our interpersonal relationships. Panelists advised that we check in with ourselves about how we are feeling, keep in mind the importance of setting boundaries, and balance our personal and group needs. Additionally, they emphasized the positive impact that self care has on our relationships with other people. Make sure, are we getting out of our relationships what we put in? And consider: Did they (or that interaction) lift you up? Or did they put you down? Eli Rallo explained it beautifully, stating “You are in control, you're in the driver's seat of your own car, maybe you’ll pick somebody up and they’ll be in your passenger seat for a little while, but at the end of the day you’re in the driver's seat, you get to choose how fast you’re going, how slow you’re going, when you stop, all of those things.” Along with being honest with yourself, this panel emphasized the importance of communicating openly with the people around you. This can be through advocacy, explaining what you believe or how your mind works to someone who might think differently, or even just an open conversation with a friend. If you do not understand what someone is telling you, ask questions about it or tell them what specifically you are confused about. I think Zach Gottlieb, the founder of “Talk With Zach” said it best, in expressing that communication “isn't about just hearing the other person, it’s about actually understanding them.”

Another panel I found relevant was on social media as it offered a balanced perspective noting some of the familiar harms, but also ideas for how to better take advantage of the positives of social media, including a practical suggestion to monitor the time spent on it, but not  cut it off entirely. Panelists explained how the algorithms on these platforms work and highlighted ways to protect ourselves from negativity and seek out and find sources of positivity. For example, it is important to understand how For You Pages are curated to what media the viewer interacts with, whether it be through liking, sharing, or commenting. Once you understand this, you can begin to put more intention into what media you are liking, and what you are pressing “not interested” to. In this panel, speakers emphasized personal agency in navigating social media: “You gotta just start asking the questions to [the algorithm]” and tell it what you want. It’s your responsibility to make it your own, explained one of the teen speakers. The panelists also discussed how important social media has been for our generation in building connections, communicating and “socializing”, ever since quarantine when physical contact was challenging. They reflected how “social media can provide extreme isolation or deep connection” depending on how it is used, and I found these tips to be helpful advice for us all to keep in mind. 

When I reflect on this conference and how the messages relate to CPS, I think the good news is: we’re in a good place with good hands and helpful resources available to us and programs in place. For example, our school counselor Joy Phillips, our wellness and belonging educator Danya Axelrad-Hausman, and our dean of equity and belonging Alexandria Osei-Amoako. Additionally there are many helpful outlets for academic support with Amelia, James, History Heroes, Writing Coaches, Math Squad, Language Legion, and Science Brigade. 

I also left with some new ideas that I thought might be worth considering. One example includes creating a Mental Health Committee (similar to the Curriculum Committee) where students and faculty members could come together to measure and facilitate open dialogue about mental health at CPS. Another idea could be a common classroom where we teach each other about how to make social media a positive resource and environment for ourselves. 

In summary, this was a great event and I’m glad I was able to attend and report on it. It reiterated how real of an issue mental health is, not just to me or at our school, but broadly across the world. It reminded me that we’re never alone in feeling the pressures we feel, and that there are always people who want to hear you. If you’re interested in hearing more about my experience there, please let me know! 



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