Pitt research project explores mental health of teens

The mental health of kids and teenagers has been a big concern, especially during the pandemic.  Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh got a unique perspective of teenagers’ mental health with a study that never expected to gain insight into a pandemic but just happened to begin right before everything shut down in March of 2020.

Inside Pittsburgh homes where bedrooms became classrooms and kitchens turned into school cafeterias, eight local teenagers created short films focusing on the stressors and supports for their everyday mental health.

The research project for the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health used collaborative filmmaking, giving teenagers equipment to create, film and edit on their own.

Ayala Rosenthal, who’s 19 from Squirrel Hill, documented her mental health experience starting in March of 2020.  She became passionate about mental health after a young person in her Orthodox Jewish community committed suicide.

“I was living in a really oblivious world, but even more than that, (mental health and suicide) was just so not talked about.  I had literally never even heard of a suicide actually happening in my community so that was a real wake up for me,” she said.

Ayala has learned to better express what she’s feeling, both the good and the bad.  In her film she says, “I felt anxiety, loneliness, worthlessness, depression, stress.”

 Dr. Sara Baumann says the study found animals and nature helped the teenagers cope with academic stress and high expectations from social or cultural groups were common.

“A lot of them talked about pressure to perform, pressure as the first generation youth going to college in America, all of these things. There are really high expectations put on them, and they expressed that leads to a lot of stress.”

Surprisingly, the films also showed COVID 19 helped some teenagers distance themselves from unhealthy relationships and reduce social pressure.

Ayala hopes the films help other teenagers.

“I hope that other teens who see these films will really be able to relate and feel that they’re not alone in the struggle because there are so many people out there who are dealing with similar things and that they should feel empowered to reach out for help.”

The researchers plan to have more community screenings of the films and to share their findings with people who can help.