ASPPH logo


Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

Colorado: How One Public Health Alum is Helping Teens Open Up by Writing it Down

Mental health problems are common in America. While one in five people will experience a mental health problem in any given year, one in 10 of America’s youth will experience a period of major depression.


Ms. Heather Kennedy, an alum of the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, is passionate about mental health, and as such, felt inspired to create a local youth action board to raise awareness and improve services for mental health.

Made up of a dozen youth ages 15 to 17 from high schools in the Denver metro area, Heather created the structure for a Mental Health Youth Action Board (YAB) after being tasked with creating an “advisory” youth board for the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado in 2013. The group’s focus is on improving mental health services and de-stigmatizing mental health issues, especially among teens.

Whether through their own experiences or those whom they’re close to, each youth action board member has had some point of contact with mental health issues. Sparked by these diverse points of view, they wrote 31, six-word stories — one for each day in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month.

The stories resulted in an interactive exhibit that displays the youths’ stories as book covers and encourages others to contribute their own six-word stories or memoirs. The “Mental Health is All Our Stories” exhibit was featured at the 2016 TEDx Mile High Make+Believe event in Denver, with story images available on Pinterest or Facebook.

Heather explained that the purpose of the exhibit art piece is to raise awareness and normalize mental health issues by starting conversations that encourage teens (and adults) to take mental health personally.

Some exhibit examples include:

“An Oscar winning performance: ‘I’m fine.’”

“Sharing silence can speak very loudly.”

“There is no normal. Let go.”

Each year, the youth board members are offered Youth Mental Health First Aid training and plan and implement a large social action project like this year’s exhibit. Past YAB projects have included a traveling photo exhibit titled “Illuminate the Darkness” and a video called “The LISTEN Project.” Each project serves as a conversation starter about how mental health is a human issue that begins with dialogue, connectedness, authenticity and compassion.

Read the full story here.