Teen Mental Health

The survey found that Detroit’s Jewish youth were diagnosed with mental health conditions at a higher-than-average nationwide rate.

Confirming the value and impact of its We Need to Talk initiative that raises awareness and provides outreach, education and training in response to the national youth mental health crisis, the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit on May 20 released the results of a study that revealed that although local teens experience a higher than national average rate of anxiety and depression, most do not feel that mental illness is a stigma and will reach out for help. 

Half of those surveyed believe they are not alone in managing their mental health, and six in 10 say they have the training and the tools to help their peers access the right professional resources for help with anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. 

The survey found that Detroit’s Jewish youth were diagnosed with mental health conditions at a higher-than-average nationwide rate. But, in an encouraging note, it revealed that more than half of the youth are resilient and skilled in overcoming their mental health challenges, with many turning to family and friends as the first line of support and then knowing where or how to get professional help. 

Ashley Schnaar, youth mental health coordinator and planning associate for Federation and one of the principal investigators of the study, said the results were “far more encouraging than expected” and is evidence that We Need To Talk is fulfilling its goals. 

“The results are a lot more positive than we thought, especially the answers to questions relating to the possibility of feeling stigmatized or isolated due to mental health,” Schnaar said. “With We Need to Talk, the Federation has been ahead of the curve in comparison to what other communities are offering or studying or giving attention to mental health. We hope our programs here in Detroit will serve as a model for other communities.” 

LEFT: How teens report accessing help with their mental health challenges. RIGHT: Percentage of teens reporting they were diagnosed with a mental health condition.
LEFT: How teens report accessing help with their mental health challenges.
RIGHT: Percentage of teens reporting they were diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Snapshot of Respondents

Of the 85 youth who responded:

• 32% said they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. This compares to about 20% of 9- to 17-year-olds nationally.

• 64% reported feeling comfortable talking openly about their mental health, only 4% strongly disagreed with this statement. 53% of youth reported they do not feel stigmatized for their mental health. 

• 64% recognized their resilience in taking care of their mental health. 

• 67% feel they can adequately recognize the symptoms of mental illness and signs of crisis in themselves and others. 

• 74% report they know tips and strategies to take care of their mental health, and 63 percent of youth report they have the skills to support their friends with their mental health.

• 69% of respondents reported they know where to go for mental health support, and 54% reported they do not feel alone in managing their mental health. Seven out of 10 young people who have needed mental health support report they were able to access a social worker, therapist or another mental health practitioner.

Who Responded?

The Federation distributed the survey to 19,000 members of the Detroit Jewish community and received 742 respondents comprised of 85 Jewish youth, 202 Jewish parents, 127 professionals who work with Jewish youth, and others in the Jewish community. Most respondents live in the suburbs of Detroit, where most of the Michigan Jewish community is concentrated. 

Schnaar acknowledges the survey had its limitations due to challenges connecting to more respondents because of the pandemic. She added the Federation also would have liked more inclusion. 

“We had hoped to garner a bigger representation from the Orthodox community as well as Jews in Detroit who are less engaged in congregations, Jewish schools, camps or youth groups,” Scnaar said. “Still, the pandemic created a big impetus to conduct a survey like this right now. We know there is an increased need for awareness, outreach and education surrounding mental health, and we wanted to make sure we were understanding it so we and our partnering agencies and mental health professionals had the information so they could respond adequately. During and after the pandemic, we want parents and professionals to be able to talk openly with young people about their mental health.” 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in five American children either presently or at some point in their lives will be diagnosed with a mental health condition.

The Federation began to delve into youth mental health beginning with a needs assessment survey in 2016. Since its 2018 launch of We Need to Talk, the Federation made efforts in reducing the stigma of mental illness through education, storytelling and outreach. It has provided mental health and suicide alertness training for teachers, youth group professionals and camp staff, and provided salary support for additional school social workers and a child psychiatrist through Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit. 

As of April 2021, more than 5,000 community members have attended a We Need to Talk event, and nearly 1,000 community professionals have been trained to better support young people’s mental health needs.

Schnaar said the Federation also collaborates with other youth professionals across the country in the B’nai Brith Youth Organization as well as the Atlanta Jewish Mental Health Foundation to share resources and findings. 

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com