Of the youth. By the youth. For the youth.
That approach is behind a youth suicide prevention and mental health awareness PSA video contest being sponsored by the Loudoun County Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services (DMHSADS).
A rotating youth committee is advising staff from DMHSADS and the Community Services Board. The youth designed the flyers for the competition and a panel of teenagers will judge the winning entries. Prizes will be awarded for the top videos and the two winning PSAs will be shown during May at the Cobb 12 and Dulles Town Center movie complexes.
According to Michelle Petruzzello, assistant director for MHSADS, youth involvement, and peer group interaction is crucial to efforts to curb teen suicide and address youth mental illness issues.
“Youth are around their friends all the time and with social media, they now have 24/7 access to their peer groups,” Petruzzello said. “So this is an effective way of getting a youth-led, youth-sponsored message to as many youths as possible.”
Because peer influence is so important with adolescents and teens, the PSA competition is designed to encourage that mechanism to help produce better outcomes when youth feel anxiety or depression.
“We want to create a culture that knows how to acknowledge when something is going on, care when something is going on and tell a responsible adult that something is going on.”
Petruzzello said Loudoun County Public Schools ran a similar PSA competition in 2015 with the support of SPAN – Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia.
“This is a little different because any youth can participate,” she said. “It’s not just Loudoun County schools. Plus, the winners are being selected by the youth.”
The competition is open to youth in high school or middle school, and the videos must be youth-led and produced with the supervision of an adult. All participants must complete and submit and registration packet that will be available (LCCSB@loudoun.gov) Oct. 1. All videos must be submitted by Feb. 28, 2018. Petruzzello said the adults are required merely to provide the proper supervision for the children during the production of the videos, not to direct or produce the content.
Joe Razzano, deputy director of MHSADS, said the PSAs themselves should enhance awareness and bring to light the problems of youth suicide and overall mental health.
“They should have an impact and effect on youth that will allow them to seek help from their peers and work through the issues they may be having,” Razzano said. “The message that gets communicated comes from the fact that the PSA is going to be so driven by youth that it will really give that youth perspective on the issue and how they themselves can assist others.”
The contest was announced at the Sept.5 business meeting of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to tie in with Sept. 10-16 being Suicide Prevention Week.
“Youth issues 24/7 and youth have access to their peers 24/7 so we need to have solutions available 24/7,” Petruzzello said.
Free, confidential 24/7 support available:
- PRS CrisisLink: 703-527-4077 or text “CONNECT” to 85511
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
- SAMHSA National Helpline: 800-662-HELP(4357)
- Children’s Regional Crisis Response (CR2): 844-NCrisis (627-4747) in English and Espanol
- Hopeline: Chat at http://www.hopeline.com or call 800-784-2433
In an emergency, call 911 and ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) deputy/officer.