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YES CEO David W. Downing Featured in The Seattle Times

Lidia Harding
Agency news For parents
David W. Downing featured in The Seattle Times article

News Alert!

Our CEO, David W. Downing, is building awareness with his latest article in The Seattle Times.

In a world increasingly marked by the pressures of modern life, the mental health of teenagers is a growing concern. Yet, amidst the myriad of challenges they face, there’s hope found in seemingly small gestures. In a heartfelt exploration by YES CEO David W. Downing in The Seattle Times, “A small gesture could make a big change in a teen’s mental health,” the article delves into how a simple act of kindness or understanding can profoundly impact adolescents’ mental well-being. Offering insights and personal anecdotes, the article sheds light on the transformative power of empathy and compassion in navigating the often turbulent waters of teenage mental health. Discover how these gestures, though seemingly minor, can catalyze significant change and foster resilience in our youth.

Read “A small gesture could make a big change in a teen’s mental health” on The Seattle Times website.

A small gesture could make a big change in a teen’s mental health

It’s an epidemic, but one on the quiet side. Our community’s young people are literally up against it, facing an alarming mental health crisis that has impacted every community and every economic level.

That’s the 30,000-foot view; the view from the ground is far more devastating. We see marked increases in the number of teens contemplating suicide (nearly 20% of sixth graders in the Washington Healthy Youth Survey report) and that drug overdoses are on the rise (a 47% increase in fentanyl overdose deaths in King County in 2023) — all the numbers are there, easily accessed, easily used to make a point. But this is about the youth who make up those numbers.

This is about Lucas (his name has been changed for privacy), a 17-year-old from Bellevue who from the outside seemed like he was doing OK. He was enduring what looked like standard teenage angst, issues at school, social miscues, but nothing that sent up a red flag. But inside he was suffering, the up-against-a-brick-wall feeling, and it all got very real when the talk of “ending it” soon found its way into normal conversation. Lucas and his parents sought help from Youth Eastside Services, where I am a counselor and CEO, upon recommendations from a school counselor after one of Lucas’ friends approached them with concerns.

That’s when it all hits home, when you start really searching for solutions. How do we address the situation? What programs can we implement to help reach teenagers who are dealing with mental health issues? How can we make counseling more attractive, more acceptable to those under 18? These are all fair questions, and they are all hugely important. But the truth is, in real day-to-day life, mental health struggles don’t always manifest themselves as warning signs or cues. So, the question becomes, how can we help someone in the moment, what can we do to get through, to break below the surface, to find out exactly what a young person is going through?

Ask them how they’re doing.

It seems too simple, right? But think about it. Young people suffer in silence in a society that still stigmatizes mental health and sharing feelings. Adults are afraid of broaching the topic for fear of having to answer some pretty hard questions. To take it even further, it’s fear of the topic, fear of the answer, fear of not knowing what to do.

That’s all understandable. Most of us aren’t child psychologists, but as the situation worsens exponentially locally and nationally, it’s dictating something we all need to recognize: Yes, the magnitude of the mental health crisis is huge, but addressing it starts at the micro level.

Two simple actions to consider:

  1. Commit five minutes of your day to “check in” and ask a young person you interact with on a regular basis how they’re doing.
    Share your own feelings about how you’ve dealt with depression, challenges, life in general, whatever it takes to break down the stigma of talking about mental health concerns.
  2. Parents, coaches, teachers, caregivers, tutors, all of us. Let’s take those small moments … the drive to school, in line at the grocery store or while watching TV, and use that time to see how life is treating our kids. Sometimes you may not get an answer, but other times, it may be exactly the hand they’ve been looking for.

David W. Downing is CEO of Youth Eastside Services, a behavioral health provider for children, youth, and families in East King County. He is a licensed mental health counselor and child mental health specialist.

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