Did you know that one in six people with mental health conditions is aged 10-19 years? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds. Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10-19 years. The consequences of not addressing teens mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults (1). For this reason, CandleX places a strong emphasis on supporting teens and has an ongoing project targeted towards helping them: the Teens Empowerment Project.
The CandleX Teens Empowerment Project started in 2020 in Beijing, China under Teens Mental Health Program. We target teenagers who are usually third-cultured, international, and multilingual. These are teens who have experience with mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, and so on. Some of them have also experienced self-harm. The goal of the project is to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness and provide a chance for teens to gain knowledge on mental health and tools on how to cope with difficult emotions so that they become resilient.
The Teens Empowerment Project has 3 stages. Stage 1 is called “Teen Writers.” The teens write down their own stories with support from a therapist. This process allows teens to find their own voice and explore the struggles and the meaning of their stories. This is like the narrative approach that we take in psychotherapy. Later, the therapist can identify the dominant and problematic story. We also include facts and insight into the editor's notes for professional information. Once we publish that through our own platform and the networks of our media partners, we can help to educate the community and reduce the stigma that teenagers feel is attached to mental illness.
Stage 2 is called “Teen Interviewers.” The teens have the chance to interview an influential adult in our community. It might be a startup entrepreneur or the CEO of a well-established company. These are adults who have battled with mental health in the past and are willing to talk to the teens about their experiences. We work with experienced media professionals who volunteer to help the teens structure their interviews, prepare the articles, and write the final pieces. Again, there is a therapist engaged in the process to make sure the whole process is therapeutic and that the final piece serves as a mental health educational purpose. These first two stages allow teenagers to learn how to accept their own struggles and become stronger in dealing with them. They also gain practical skills associated with publishing articles and conducting interviews. For a lot of them, it's also the first time that they publish something on a public platform!
Stage 3 is called “Teen Spokesperson.” CandleX gets interviewed by the media every now and then, and as the Teens Empowerment Project develops, we try to create a space for the teenagers to be the people who can talk about their opinions and their experiences as an advocate as well. So far, we've had teens on radio shows, magazines, and now we have an exciting opportunity for them to be on national TV as well!
The three-stage empowerment project paints a road map where we can take the teenager on a journey. Not all teenagers will go through all the stages; it depends on their willingness, strength, and preferences. That’s why we take very small steps in this process. We constantly check in with them to see how they're feeling, whether they're learning things and whether things are going according to what they expect. Our role in this process is being the support instead of the supervisor. To empower one teen, we often engage 4 to 5 adults in the process. So far, this is the highest investment project we've had in all our projects. It usually takes about 6 months to 1 year to finish the empowerment project for one teenager. This is also one of the strongest programs we have, where I continue to see changes that teenagers demonstrate throughout the process, as well as after the program has ended. Some of them choose to stay with CandleX and volunteer in other roles, while others continue with their lives and contribute to society in their own ways on mental health afterward.
1. Adolescent Mental Health - World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health.