Girls for Gender Equity
5 min readMay 31, 2023


What Adults Don’t Understand About Our Mental Health

By: Zeltzin (she/her), YWAC youth organizer

Senedd Welsh Research.

A voice rang out above the noise, “Did everyone get a chance to review the packet?” Huddled around tables in small groups, organizers were speaking in nervous whispers, deciding who would speak and when and what. Under their breath, someone whispered “It’s too early for this.” The GGE Advocacy Day in Albany was just getting started.

Navigating the Legislative Building was harder than anticipated, but the long hallways with door after door of offices eventually gave way to big conference rooms, serious and powerful — right out of a TV drama. Nervous glances asking “who is going to start” with our eyes soon turned into free-flowing conversations, with youth organizers and elected officials exchanging stories, thoughts, and questions about three bills. The Student Suicide Prevention Act, Solutions Not Suspensions, and Comprehensive Sex Ed (CSE) were the focus of the day, because each bill is important to the wellbeing of young people in New York. And whether obvious or not, each of these bills is critical to mental health.

Mental Health is everywhere and looks different for each of us. Self is impacted by food, social media, major life changes, friends, partner, culture, school, home, family, racism, family & social pressures/expectations, stereotypes, etc. A ripple effect. According to Mind Your Way, “It affects our feelings, thoughts, moods, behavior, and our relationships. It also affects how we can deal with life’s ups and downs and our capacity to make helpful choices.” A lot more young people are taking mental health seriously, after going through alot during COVID. Being isolated at home for long periods of time, not being able to see friends in-person, attending online classes without in-person interaction with classmates, and missing out on social events like prom took a toll on young people. Schools should prioritize mental health as young people are growing up into young adults in schools.

It might not seem like these issues can take a toll on a young person’s mental health but they do; occupying majority of their time & energy worrying or other strong distress emotions, searching for resources, getting to location (school, home, job, abortion clinic, STI/UTI testing, pharmacy). Students not being able to concentrate or “act out” during class, or attend school. Whatever is bothering them interferes with them at home too. Everyone & everything that affects us personal is important should be taught in school, and school staff should try to understand students by offering support & solutions.

Rather than suspend and not investigate & understand root of behavior, judging them based on that behavior alone. Black girl students are very sexualized, adultified, and dehumanized by their teachers beginning at a young age. Black students are often judged and punished unnecessarily, including for the clothing they wear or the way they talk, more so than their white classmates. Even when expressing common behaviors or defending themselves, Black students are labeled for their attitudes, and those labels often stay with students as they continue their schooling.

Black girls don’t get to be seen as children, and the problems they are dealing with outside school settings often go unrecognized; they are then judged for expressing their anger or depression in “unhealthy” ways. There is an assumption that Black girls “should just know better,” and when they do not act accordingly, they are suspended at alarming rates. Every suspension they receive shapes the way they view themselves as a person and puts a pause on their education, bringing them closer to dropping out of school and increasing their chances of being involved in the juvenile system. Schools need to reevaluate the system: Black girls and all students should feel safe and supported, with the opportunity to approach adults for help without fear of being suspended. Teachers and school staff should be able to offer resources and intervene with counseling, restorative practices, and non-threatening responses.

Adults tend to overlook that young people deal with real issues like puberty, sex, periods, hygiene, body image, social media, boundaries, self-esteem, diet culture, family, gender identity, friendship and partner problems, and more. Because of their age, kids’ and teens’ issues are not seen as “real” or “serious” problems; moreover, it’s assumed that they are learned and dealt with outside of school. Yet these problems follow students everywhere they go, including during school hours, too. When adults ignore these issues, young people form their own resources (like apps or on social media) outside of school because that resource is being denied to them, even though they need information and support. This forces students to navigate on their own what decisions they should make with limited and sometimes incorrect information or advice they find or are given, which reinforces stereotypes and stigmatizes issues. Fact-based, & LGBTQ+ inclusive sexual education, mental health, and other important topics are not being shared with students, even though these topics, small or big, are much more relatable and relevant, shaping their self identity outside the ‘student’ role.

For some students, because access to support is limited, they might feel like they have no help (even in their personal life); this sometimes leads them to suicidal ideation or attempts. Students spend the majority of their life growing up in schools, so it’s important school staff are trained on how to identify suicide risk factors. A trusting reliable relationship between student and school staff where school staff know how to talk, handle situations, and take appropriate action (i.e., bringing in community resources, counseling, etc) when dealing with mental health, especially suicide. Thus creating a safe and supportive environment for Black girls and LGBTQ+ youth, reducing suicidal attempts.

Mental health affects us from such an early age, with every developmental/life stage we go through comes with it’s struggles that affect us each differently or more than others. Suspensions, puberty, sex, incorrect/biased advice, major life changes, friends, partner, culture, gender identity, home, family, racism, family & social pressures/expectations, stereotypes and much more factors Above was just a glimpse of intertwine with each other. As well as how school respond to our problems plays a role in our mental health & development. Adults are not on the receiving end of their rules, suspensions, assumptions, and advice, so they can’t understand the impact it has on us. That’s why it’s so important to make space for and center the voices of young people in policies that affect them directly. When it comes to mental health, young people often know what support they need — it’s up to adults to actually listen.



Girls for Gender Equity

Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational organization centering the leadership of cis and trans Black girls and gender-expansive youth of color.