Founded by Melinda French Gates, Pivotal Ventures accelerates social progress by removing barriers that hold people back.

Portraits of young people representing a diverse variety of races and gender identities.

Photos by various photographers on Unsplash

Building the Mental Health System That Young People Need and Deserve

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Do you remember what it was like to be fifteen? It is, for many people, an exciting and tumultuous time. Maybe you had big dreams and ambitions but didn’t know yet how to put them into action. Maybe you felt like no one understood you or valued your perspective. Maybe you were coping with poverty or racism. Maybe you were struggling with what you now realize was anxiety and depression. Maybe you needed help but didn’t know where to get it.

Today, many young people in the United States are navigating all of these issues—often all at once—within a broken mental health system plagued by a high cost of care, limited resources, too few providers, long wait times, discrimination, and bias. These conditions have contributed to a growing youth mental health crisis, especially among LGBTQ+ youth and young people of color.

But change is happening. As part of our work to advance social progress in the U.S., Pivotal Ventures partners with organizations working alongside young people to unlock next-generation mental health care that better meets this generation’s needs.

Graphic of examples of young people sharing their points of view on social media.

Courtesy of YR Media

Elevating Young People’s Voices

Adults’ stereotypes about teenagers can be far from flattering—often dismissing their behavior as impulsive, irrational, and risk-prone. So it’s no wonder that young people so often feel misunderstood by adults—or that adults fail to recognize the value of young people’s insights and perspectives, even about their own mental health journeys.

To help counter these stereotypes and give young people a chance to make their voices heard on issues that matter to them, our partner YR Media provides a platform for young content creators—most of whom are BIPOC—to share stories, art, and music.

Thanks to YR Media’s training and support, content creators ages 14–24 have written hundreds of stories exploring topics related to their health and well-being, including Covering Race as a Young Black Journalist and The LGBTQ+ Experience at School: Clubs Can Be a Safe Space. These young content creators have also led honest conversations about mental health on YR Media’s podcast Adult-ISH, created original music and curated playlists focused on wellbeing, and produced the award-winning documentary Unadopted about one young person’s experience in foster care.

A young woman with headphones and a microphone interviews a young man for Pivotal Ventures partner YR Media.

Courtesy of YR Media

"Young people are drawn to avenues for self-expression where they own and shape their stories, rather than having adults look in from the outside and dictate to them who they are or what they need."

YR Media

YR Media offers a wide range of social and emotional support to contributors—such as checking in with them after they’ve published a tough story and connecting them to mental health professionals and crisis hotlines. What’s more, they’ve published research sharing how others can support young people in media, too.

Above all, YR Media is partnering with young people to shift perceptions. By recognizing young people as experts worth listening to, YR Media is helping these young people advance the conversation about mental health on their own terms.

A young man looks down at his phone while sitting on a living room couch.

Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Learning How to Help Kids Develop a Better Relationship with Technology

While adults love to describe young people as “addicted to their screens,” time online means different things for different kids. The internet can be a tool that connects young people struggling with mental health issues to resources and community—or a place that makes those mental health issues worse.

That’s why researchers at The Center for Digital Thriving at Harvard University’s Graduate School for Education are on a mission to help young people develop healthier relationships with technology. They want kids to reap its benefits, without being tethered to, or overwhelmed by it. They’re passionate about engaging caregivers and educators in this endeavor, too.

For example, the center’s researchers developed free digital lesson plans educators can use to inspire students to build healthier habits with media and tech. One lesson plan helps young people recognize negative thought patterns that can arise from the digital part of their social lives: This person didn’t text me back, so they must not like me, or I saw on social media they’re all hanging out without me. Something must be wrong with me. Teaching young people to become aware of these thoughts can help them address anxious or depressive feelings.

Another way adults can help young people thrive in a tech-filled world is by understanding what influences their use of technology in the first place. To deepen that understanding, researchers at the Center for Digital Thriving interviewed over 3,500 teenagers for a book called Behind Their Screens that paints a comprehensive picture of teen’s online lives. By compassionately exploring young people’s complex digital experiences, researchers are encouraging adults to challenge their own assumptions about teens’ use of tech and approach the topic more productively—and with more empathy.

Legislating Better Mental Health Policies

In a deeply partisan time, mental health is one of the rare issues with broad bipartisan support. Our partner Inseparable is working to turn that support into action.

Inseparable works across the aisle to improve mental health care policy at the state and federal level. In particular, Inseparable is focused on advancing policies that promote prevention, early intervention, expanding access to care, and improving young people’s care experience.

Because schools are one of the best places to reach young people in need of support, Inseparable recently published a guide to help states expand school-based mental health services. One of their recommendations is for states to extend Medicaid—the single largest payer for youth mental health services—to cover more school-based mental health services, breaking down a key barrier to affordable, accessible care.

Inseparable’s wide-ranging efforts are rooted in the idea that “The health of our minds is inseparable from the health of our bodies.” And their advocacy is grounded in the conviction that better mental health policy can and does save lives.

Graphic that shows 61% of public schools report insufficient mental health to manage caseloads. Source: Inseparable.

"The mental health system has been broken for so long that it’s easy to feel hopeless. But the truth is that there are countless reasons for hope. Most mental illness is treatable. When people get the care they need, they can thrive."

Inseparable

There’s no question that young people today experience enormous challenges to their mental health and wellbeing. But thanks to organizations like these ones, we can rebuild the system that has failed young people—ensuring that future generations are surrounded by the full range of services and support a young person needs to live a rich and joyful life.

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