Amid the current youth mental health crisis, teen girls across the country are facing record levels of sadness and despair, with nearly 3 in 5 teen girls (57%) saying they felt “persistently sad or hopeless,” the highest in a decade. And a national shortage of school counselors means that many young people have limited access to support.
But there are signs of hope as teen girls are stepping in to become mental health responders for themselves and their peers.
Meet Dayna and Kiara
Dayna and Kiara first met working together and formed a close friendship. Kiara confided in Dayna, a Pace graduate, about her struggles with school and personal mental health challenges.
“Go to Pace — it has small classrooms and a nice, more hands-on environment,” Dayna recommended. “There are therapists as well if you ever want to talk about any issues.”
Dayna supported Kiara through her conversation with her parents about joining Pace, and after a meeting with counselors, Kiara enrolled.
We asked the girls what mental health awareness means to them.
“Accepting your issues and being open about them,” Dayna said, “Advocating for yourself, making sure that you know how to get the help you need.”
“When you feel like you are not alone,” Kiara said, “There are people that are there for you and can talk to you to help you through depression.”
As an introvert, Dayna said Pace pushed her to come out of her shell, which became the reason she advocated for girls to attend Pace.
“I feel like (Kiara) is my little sister,” Dayna said, “When I was going through my mental health struggles, all I wanted was someone to tell me that I wasn’t alone and that I had someone who cared.”
Since graduating in 2020, Dayna has referred a number of girls in similar situations to Pace.
When discussing the biggest challenges facing teen girls, the girls focused on three major issues: mental health, social media, and sexual harassment.
Before Pace, Dayna was reserved when talking about the issues she was facing. Pace helped her with her social anxiety by providing her with opportunities, including speaking at Pace Day at the Capitol.
“You have to be vocal about what you’re going through,” Dayna said. “If you’re not vocal about it, then no one’s gonna know how to help you.”
Today, Dayna is studying IT at Florida State College at Jacksonville. Kiara graduated from Pace in Spring 2023, plans on taking a gap year and going to Florida State College at Jacksonville as well to study business in order to eventually open up a bakery.
“I just wanted to be the person she (Kiara) could talk to,” Dayna said, “Let her know that she doesn’t have to go through everything by herself.”
The girls were asked to reflect on their younger selves and provide advice for going through life.
“Don’t listen to what people got to say, stay true to yourself,” Kiara said.
“Keep pushing. Keep fighting,” Dayna said. “Don’t let anything hold you back or get you down.”
On April 10th, the same day we got a chance to connect with the girls, Dayna and Kiara celebrated their friendship anniversary and decided to go out and commemorate it.
Kiara created an art piece to acknowledge THE PLAYERS Championship Village grant, which features her holding Dayna’s hand to celebrate their friendship and their care for one another.