“In This Together” teen forum to discuss mental health on Friday

Maya McNealis, Author

The City of Palo Alto is hosting a youth forum to discuss improving community wellbeing and mental health this Friday at the Mitchell Park Community Center.

The event, officially titled, “In This Together: A Place to Share, A Place to Support, A Place to Heal,” will be led by teen-selected adult facilitators and is scheduled to run from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Topics that will be discussed include social and academic pressure, stress, stigma, depression and loss. Attendance is free, but students and adults must sign up to to reserve a spot.

The goal of the event is to encourage youth to have open, honest dialogue in a safe environment with trusted adult facilitators so that students, parents and educators can come to a common understanding of the issues teens face in Palo Alto.

The forum has been publicized on social media and through the City of Palo Alto website with this flyer. The schedule shown emphasizes the importance of teen discussion and “Empathy Hour” to the success of the event. Photo courtesy of the City of Palo Alto.

During the event, adults and youth will separate into smaller “dialogue circles” and then come together for closing remarks and the launch of “Everyone Matters Day,” a celebration of community and acceptance led by Council member Patrick Burt. The forum will conclude with an “Empathy Hour” to focus on relationship building and friendship. Food, beverages, art activities and a selfie booth will be available.

Palo Alto High School junior Bryn Carlson sees the forum as an important step for the community and a possible source of inspiration.

“I’m going because I think it is really important for our community to come together right now, and this seems like a great way for me to be a part of that,” Carlson said. “Also, I created the Active Minds Club this semester with [juniors] Joseph Kao and Sylvia Targ, and … attending the forum may give me some ideas for the direction we want to take the club because our club mission is to improve the mental health of students at Paly.”

The event is part of a larger movement within the Palo Alto community to encourage discussion about mental health through multiple conferences, forums and newsletters in an effort to improve social and emotional wellbeing.

Recently, the City of Palo Alto and Project Safety Net, a Palo Alto-based community health task force, co-hosted “Let’s Talk: A Community Conversation about Healthy Kids and Healthy Schools” to strategize ways to foster an inclusive environment conducive to progress and resilience. The Mitchell Park Library has also demonstrated support for this initiative through its “Wake Up Call: The Role of Sleep and Teen Health” panel on teen sleep, which brought doctors and educators, including Associate Superintendent Charles Young together to spread awareness of sleep deprivation in Palo Alto’s youth.

Following the recent suicides in the Palo Alto community, Gunn High School sophomore Martha Cabot and former teacher Marc Vicenti started the campaign, “Save the 2,008,” to engage the community with its six goals to decrease academic stress at Gunn, which includes assigning a less rigorous workload, having smaller class sizes and prohibiting cell phone use on campus.

Local professional publications like Palo Alto Online have shared anonymous stories of a local teenager’s experience with depression and guest opinions of individuals who feel the community is not taking the right approach to improving mental health. These articles sparked heated debate on online forums like Town Square, though teenagers seem to prefer sharing their opinions through Facebook and Twitter.

Carlson hopes attending the forum will help support the students in her community who have trouble expressing their struggles even on these platforms.

“People should feel like it is okay to discuss suicide, depression, student stress and other troubles openly,” Carlson said. “I hope that the forum will help to facilitate honest conversations about the things that often go unmentioned.”