As a young person in California and a young person of color, Gabriel Garcia believes he has much to contribute when it comes to new and fresh ideas about youth mental wellness.
“What excites me about young people is that they are aware of a broad range of issues facing their communities,” Garcia said. “Because of social media, now more than ever youth can more easily learn about any issues that interest them. There is no shortage of young folks that care about issues, whether they are directly impacted by those issues or whether they are simply passionate about justice and equity.”
Garcia represents the kind of voice that the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission wants to include in its newly formed Youth Innovation Project Planning Committee.
“The Commission understands the importance of including youth voices in the planning and decision-making process of policies and programs that are designed for them,” said Commission Chair Khatera Tamplen. “Too often, those voices are overlooked. We plan to ensure that their voices are heard, loud and clear, in the design of youth-oriented mental wellness programs.”
The Commission’s Youth Innovation Project has been underway since last July. It came out of a 2018 mental health innovation summit, which brought together California’s mental health and technology leaders to support innovative approaches to improving mental health services and outcomes. That event focused on strategies to inspire human centered design into county mental health systems. About $100 million is dedicated each year toward county mental health innovation projects.
Moreover, the Youth Innovation Project aligns with the Commission’s ongoing commitment to children and youth wellness. The Youth Innovation Project will be led by the Youth Innovation Project Planning Committee comprising youth ages 15-25. The 15-member committee will review information gathered from four youth focus groups and a statewide survey on youth mental health.
When the Commission announced the formation of the new youth-led committee, it received about 68 applications from young people across the state. The process resulted in the formation of the 15-member committee as well as three alternates. Garcia will serve on the committee. The Commission plans to announce the other committee members in the near future.
“I applied to the Youth Innovation Committee because a lot of youth I have worked with and heard from felt like they don’t have the support they need to feel mentally and emotionally healthy and their voices are not always heard by policymakers,” Garcia said. “I hope to work in partnership with youth across the state to brainstorm how we can better support them and learn how I can better represent their needs to policymakers.”
The committee recruitment and selection process was guided by an advisory group of youth under 25-years of age with the support of Art with Impact, a nonprofit organization that promotes youth mental wellness through art and media. The organization worked with the advisory group to establish criteria and recommend applicants. Criteria included lived-experience and demographic and geographic diversity.
“While there were some challenges in receiving equal and thorough representation, namely applicants from northern geographic regions, the robust recruitment and selection process yielded an impressive group of youth with varied experience and perspective,” said Shannon Tarter, Commission project lead. “We look forward to this committee identifying unmet mental health challenges and possible solutions.”
Public and private resources will support the committee’s work and its recommendations will be presented to county leaders for possible investment.
“When discussing the needs of young people, youth absolutely need to be at the table,” Garcia said. “To make these decisions without youth voices would be a huge mistake. We need services for young people that are designed in partnership with young people.”