This was originally posted on the Best Starts for Kids blog. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to share a story featuring a young person who is living through a disruptive pandemic and highlight upcoming events and resources to support your mental and emotional health beyond May.
Locally and nationally, young people are experiencing wide ranging impacts of the pandemic on their lives, including impacts on their mental health and well-being. At Best Starts for Kids, we’re working with community partners and young people to support emotional health and well-being, reduce stigma around mental health, and reinforce compassion, connection and care in communities. Recognizing that racism is a public health crisis, we focus on reaching young people who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color and young people who are facing other forms of oppression.
We know that storytelling can be powerful in the process of healing. Today, we are grateful to share our conversation with 22-year-old Native American youth advocate and West Seattle resident, George Olebar. George graduated high school during the pandemic and shares his observations of how he and other young people’s mental health has been impacted.
Before the pandemic, the boys and I would all show up at any of the basketball courts around the neighborhood and would play for hours. That just kind of disappeared in early 2020. And not even just basketball you know, but pretty much all activities got shut down: get-togethers like barbecues, ceremonies or any other kind of celebration really was put to a halt.
So, a lot of us really didn’t know what to do with ourselves because so much of our cultures and everyday lives were based around our community’s behaviors. I think Covid pulled a lot of us away from each other and as a result wounded our communities in a way and that had a big impact on us all and I mean outside of even getting the virus itself.
A lot of these teens, kids, and people were going to school and other places to get what they need done, or to seek help, or to go to those places that would make them, them. People’s daily habits and interactions that they would get from their teachers, classmates, counselors, peers, and their people’s, was stripped away — and suddenly too. So then essentially out of nowhere a lot of people were on their own. That can be hard or even traumatic for some.
I think we all should realize that this has caused some of us to lose a part of our identities. Some like to say that it takes a village to raise a child, and for the people who are raising their children through the pandemic, this has been especially tough on them. We should acknowledge that too and, to those who can, do what you can to carry the load because it can get heavy at times.
Navigating unanticipated change
I was a few months back into returning to high school when the pandemic hit. I had been out of school for more than a year. So, at the time I was in this grind mode trying to get back on track and finish that last bit of the high school race as quickly as I could. Lol. That’s when the pandemic kicked off, so essentially, I got kicked out of school again. But I pushed through the little obstacles and hassles that came with going to school online during COVID 19: high school via the internet. I pushed through it and graduated but there was no real ceremony for us. Our graduation was on YouTube. And let me tell you, there was no real sense of “You did it!” I know I graduated but at the same time it was like it didn’t matter.
We spent all this hard time it took to get through all that hard work. But not only that, but also everything else it took for you specifically to make it past that mark. None of us share the same story. It took some of us a whole hell of a lot more to persevere and make that kind of accomplishment. I think there could be a little more recognition toward both of those things.
To some cultures and beliefs, our people who are no longer with us wanted to attend spiritually to those graduation ceremonies too but couldn’t because they didn’t know how to get on YouTube to celebrate it. I bet they’re mad too.
Celebrating milestones with community
Lately I’ve been really putting in that extra effort to linking up and reconnecting with family. It’s been great honestly. It can be hard sometimes too, especially when you spent so much time away from each other, even outside the pandemic. But even if you’re the one who’s got to glue it back together, it’s worth it. I know sometimes it might seem like you’re the only one carrying a glue stick around. But trust me, it’s going to be worth it. You’ll be surprised when you find out that others feel how you be feeling and been had their glue sticks at the ready. Some have just been waiting on you and you don’t even know it yet.
When I go back to my neighborhood, I gets to see all my older homies — you know all these people who done looked out for me — and they just be so happy to see me around and are proud of the work I be doing and just be like ecstatic to be able to see me put it all together.
George’s message to other young people: Try to learn a thing or two about patience and then make it your best friend. Because some of y’all are going to be here for a while, so let that sink in and do what you can to make positive preparations that will benefit you later.
Upcoming Event to access free mental health supports:
- June 1, 4:30 – 6:00 PM
Join SKEWL and Public Health–Seattle & King County’s Community Well-Being Program for a conversation on youth mental health led by and for young people in our region. Learn more and register here.
Crisis resources for young people and their families: