Teens 4 Teens Help was founded by Kathy and Jeff Long a few years after their own daughter, Kara, was admitted to a Residential Program for eating disorder treatment. Upon her recovery, Kara began speaking about her disorder at a few high schools. During one such visit, a young man told Kara that her words inspired him not to go through with his plan to commit suicide, and to reach out for help instead. There and then, the idea for Teens 4 Teens Help was born. The Long family had seen first-hand not only that stories have the power to change lives, but also how those stories perhaps better impact young people when they’re told by their own peers.
Today, Teens 4 Teens Help is growing into a flourishing online peer-to-peer mental health platform. The first thing you’ll see when you visit the homepage of their website is a carousel of videos. These clips tell the stories of young people experiencing myriad mental health struggles — including addiction, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders — all of which are navigated by millions of teenagers every day.
In one video titled “Stories of Depression – Sarah,” a young woman talks in depth about her history with mental health, which began in middle school. She is incredibly open about her experience, sharing everything from the insecurities that manifested her depression, to the internal monologue that ran on a loop at her lowest lows, to the moment she admitted how bad her mental health had become to her mother. “I told her. I was like, ‘I’m not okay right now. I feel like dying and I don’t know how to explain it.’”
In the clip, Sarah is eager to show others who struggle with depression that they are not alone, and that they are not beyond help. Her candor throughout the video evokes a powerful emotional response from the viewer. Her honesty allows a sense of hope to pervade her video, hope that others her age will fight against their own depression and find the help they need, as she did. “It might be so tiny now, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And at the end of the tunnel, it’s pretty beautiful.”
None of the video testimonials are preachy. The storytellers don’t claim to have the perfect remedy for the mental health struggles they deal with, and they don’t entreat fellow peers to follow a universal path to recovery. In an age where teenagers are being told how best to manage their mental health by adults left and right, stories like these from Teens 4 Teens Help serve as a resource that is refreshing, for the simple reason that it comes from a contemporary.
Aside from the mental health testimonials, Teens 4 Teens Help is also home to a variety of resources, from which those who are suffering can glean hope, education and inspiration to begin their journey to recovery. The nonprofit regularly posts “Teen-Talks,” during which members of Teens 4 Teens Help’s youth advisory board, which operates in tandem with a professional advisory board, interview experts on topics including grief, academic stress, self-harm, ADHD and stress. Under the “Self Help” tab, teens can find support in the form of mental health-related book and podcast recommendations, music playlists, coping tips, educational websites and simple notes of encouragement from fellow teenagers who understand their struggle. One such note reads: “I know life’s tough sometimes, but you are strong. And remember, you are never truly alone.” For those in need of more immediate or professional mental health support, Teens 4 Teens Help also offers visitors a litany of hotlines, support groups and therapists to connect with.
Now, Kathy and Jeff Long, along with their team, are working to connect with middle and high school’s across the country and spread the well of encouragement, knowledge and hope they have created. More and more schools are establishing “wellness rooms” for students on their campuses, and Teens 4 Teens Help aims to equip each with a healthy coping skill tool box, full of things like educational material, coping strategies, breathing exercises, stress toys and links to their website. They provide the tool boxes with the hope that young people might latch onto something in them that relieves the internal pain they’re experiencing, that they might end up on the Teens 4 Teens Help homepage and discover dozens of stories just like theirs. And that they might choose to follow them towards recovery.
As Kathy Long puts it, “everybody has their own journey. We can’t push them in one direction, but we can at least put a light on the path and they can choose to take it.”
Taylor Nelson is a student, writer and editorial intern for L.A. Parent