By Baila Salifou, Youth Advisory Council member

Baila is a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She is focused on tackling mental health stigmas and healthcare discrepancies associated with youth in America, as well as youth across the globe.

With the rising mental and social health disparities, it has become important now more than ever to support youth-led interventions. Creating space for youth to lead positive, purposeful involvement allows youth to transform the social issues that directly impact them. As a Youth Advisory Council (YAC) member on my second term, I am happy to be part of a group that is intentional about tackling concerns within the youth population.  

Some of the concerns that I am most passionate about are substance use prevention. Youth brains are biologically and chemically malleable, and are highly susceptible to alterations in brain chemistry from frequent drug use. Dr. Veronika Mesheriakova, a pediatrician, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, has addressed the issue during her presentation, The Epidemiology of Substance Use. She describes the lack of substance misuse training in medical schools, which, results in a negative view, and lack of addiction medicine understanding. She also labels substance use as a “pediatric priority” because of the neurological vulnerability youth have that renders substance use especially dangerous.1 Not only can these affects be neurological, but they can also transfer into social and academic disparities down the line. Studies, such as, The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study have shown a positive correlation between cannabis use in youth and a decrease in academic success.2 I have seen this happen to many youth around me in my hometown, as well as how detrimental starting drug use before the age of 18 early can be.  Mental illness and substance use are major contributors to health burdens among youth and negatively impact outcomes in adulthood.  By spreading awareness, utilizing the benefits of school-based health centers, becoming more cognizant of the problems that affect youth, and promoting youth-led interventions – we can change these outcomes.  

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse 3

Looking specifically into the impact of youth-led interventions, I have noticed the benefits of such initiatives within my academic institution, George Washington University in Washington D.C.  Most, if not all, of the organizations are led, run, and overseen by youth. There are hundreds of organizations, each with the intent to contribute to a specific topic that usually directly affects youth. This is just at my institution, but there are youth all around the world leading projects to break stigma, raise awareness, and/or create social change.  A compelling example includes Choose.org – a nonprofit, founded by two high school students, that promotes racial literacy. It is important to value these roles, as well as support them so that we provide youth the space to be fully functioning citizens and contribute to society.  

One of my contributions, combining my interest in opioid use prevention and my involvement as a council member, is as an intern with the School-Based Health Alliance. Through my internship, I work with the Play2Prevent Lab at the Yale Center for Health and Learning Games, providing a youth perspective on an opioid misuse prevention game. I started out providing feedback on game development in one of the focus groups held this summer. Later, to my surprise, an internship role was introduced as a long-term opportunity, to which I excitedly applied. I took this role because I am passionate about opioid prevention and want to contribute to the stark difference this video game will make in the future. Integrating informational content in a video game transforms how youth are educated on topics that directly affect them. Most of my work consists of analyzing various aspects of the game and providing a perspective to enhance the experience of the gamer. Not only have I been introduced to amazing people, but I have learned quite a few things from the webinars I have attended.  

Being a part of the YAC has expanded our network by allowing us to collaborate with other youth, organizations, and projects to create a more well-rounded experience.  Despite these extraneous times, I am glad we are still able to contribute to making a better space for youth in an academic, social, and medical setting. I hope that in the future, more youth are supported in being leaders and carrying out initiatives to create social change. 

References

  1. Mesheriakova, V. (2020). Who’s Doing What?: The Epidemiology of Adolescent Substance Use. Lecture presented at Transitional Age Youth Webinar Series. 
  2. Meier, M. H., Caspi, A., Ambler, A., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Keefe, R. S. E., McDonald, K., Ward, A., Poulton, R., & Moffitt, T. E. (2012). Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(40), E2657–E2664. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1206820109 
  3. Images of Brain Development in Healthy Children and Teens (Ages 5-20). National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/introduction. Published 2 June 2020. Accessed 18 December 2020. 
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