Our Chicago: Expressions Challenge helps teens cope with mental health challenges

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, March 12, 2023
Our Chicago Part 1: Initiative addresses teens' mental health challenges
A recent survey by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention found more than half of teenage girls reported feeling "persistently sad or hopeless."

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Teenagers in the U.S. are struggling.

A recent survey by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention found more than half of teenage girls reported feeling "persistently sad or hopeless." That number is a record high. In addition, one in three high school girls said they had considered suicide, while 14% of boys said they had.

To help teens cope with mental health struggles, a nationwide initiative called the Expressions Challenge was started in Chicago to help promote creative and artistic expressions to help children who are coping.

Senn High School graduate Samantha Oliva took part, and is a 2021 winner of the Expressions by Walgreens Award Winner.

"I am super grateful that I did it. I think it was a challenge for myself, to try to come up with something that was important to me while also trying to make it relatable to others," Oliva said. "I feel like that was my goal a lot through the pandemic, I was making a lot videos for my school trying to promote taking care of your mental health, taking care of yourself in general."

So, what's behind some of the struggles that American teens are experiencing these days?

WATCH: Our Chicago Part 2

The Walgreens Expressions Challenge helps address mental health challenges in teens.

Dr. Charles Alexander is a licensed psychologist with Alexander Consulting LLC.

"When we're talking about our teens, I think we have to really understand and appreciate that most of our children were born into a recession. And, with that recession, you have unemployment. You have housing insecurity, and some family discord, things of that nature. So, we had that going on," Alexander said. "Then, we had a contentious presidential time. And, the United States is engaged in external conflict, then you follow that with a pandemic. And so, throughout the course of the lives of our young people there have been significant stressors impacting people, not just the young people, but impacting people. And so, if the adults are stressed, then chances are that the children are stressed and that's really what we've been seeing."

Senn High School teacher Michael Cullinane has been using the Walgreens Expressions Challenge in his classroom for roughly eight years.

He said early on, the students work focused on topical issues. Now, he said, students are comfortable telling their "own unique stories." He said his students' entries for this year "are a lot what I'm calling the 'fine, not fine entries.'"

"A lot of young people express to adults and to their parents and teachers 'I'm fine, I'm fine, everything's okay,' and really, what they're trying to say is 'I'm not.' There's more to the picture than meets the eye, and they're using this as an opportunity to share that," Cullinane said.

Click here for more information on the Expressions Challenge.