(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Heading into the new year, mental health advocates shared the importance of increased awareness of the well-being of younger generations.

“I think the undertone of that is that there is a decrease in stigma about treating mental health,” said Medical Science Liaison with Myriad Genetics, Rachel Earls. “I think for generations it’s been something that’s kind of cast behind the shadows, but now people are wanting to talk about it more. They’re seeking treatment more actively, proactively, rather than reactively.”

When it comes to prioritizing one’s mental health, Earls explained why it is so important.

“There’s been a long belief that mental health is something we have great control over, and it’s the separate system from the rest of our body,” Earls said. “But it’s a disease of the brain and it’s something that needs to be monitored and something that needs to be managed.”

Earls stated that there are several components that could be impacting the well-being of younger generations.

“There are a lot of factors specific to Gen Z with the pandemic being one of them,” Earls said. “The inundation of social media, kind of the way the world is changing, it makes it hard to prioritize our mental health.”

Aubree Adams, Executive Director for Every Brain Matters shared why she brings awareness to the impact of drugs on one’s mental health.

“My son, at the age of 15 in Pueblo was irrational and paranoid after using marijuana dabbing and he was suffering and he tried to take his life,” Adams said. “Thank God he survived, but I’m in touch with many families that their children have not survived.”

Every Brain Matters is a nonprofit organization that works to educate about the dangers of marijuana and drug culture expansion.

“We’re in a national mental health crisis and the mental health crisis is multifactorial,” said Ken Finn M.D. “And I think what I’ve learned over time is that mainstream media tends to dismiss any potential relationship between cannabis and negative mental health. I mean, we’ve had COVID, we have social media, we have all these factors that are playing into it.”

Finn elaborated on the impact drugs have on our youth’s mental health.

“However, some of the people that are using, particularly youth, because their brains are still developing will have something called persistent psychosis,” Finn said. “And the psychosis can last for days or weeks or even months.”

Every Brain Matters offers free educational resources that are available online.

Another challenge in helping our youth’s mental health is diagnosis and treatment.

“One thing that adds a layer of complexity to this is that a lot of our mental health is now treated by primary care clinicians,” Earls said. “In order to get into a mental health specialist, usually there has to be a referral process that happens. So what that leads to is that the primary care provider is now largely responsible for kind of detecting and diagnosing those initial symptoms of mental illness.”

To help healthcare providers support individuals’ mental health, Earls recommended pharmacogenetic testing.

Adams has spent the last four years as a host mom for youth in recovery, and shared how she has seen first-hand the impact of drugs on youth’s mental health.

“These teens are severely, severely depressed, and it takes a whole team of not only professionals, but friends and families to surround that teen and make sure they’re safe until their brain can heal,” Adams said. “And we’re talking years sometimes that that it takes to heal.”