Mental Health Experts Share Lessons from the Pandemic Ahead of Launch of 2022 Walgreens Expressions Challenge

Mental Health Experts Share Lessons from the Pandemic
Ahead of Launch of 2022 Walgreens Expressions Challenge

The pandemic of 2020 changed the world forever. It taught mental health experts some vital lessons and reinforced to Walgreens how the company’s Expressions Challenge is important for the mental health of students.

Expressions helped more than 3,500 teens nationwide cope with the pandemic. The teen participants used spoken-word, visual arts, and media arts to make powerful statements about what they were experiencing on topics like mental health and suicide, anxiety, cyberbullying, and the 2020 pandemic itself.

“When we originally launched Expressions in Chicago and St. Louis in 2009, it aimed to address the issue of HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted disease (STDs) among high school students,” said John Gremer, senior director of community relations for Walgreens.

“The pandemic brought on an entirely new level of issues for teens, so we launched Expressions nationally for the first time and included a Specialty Award category for the best entry that addressed the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of teens.”

The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and
questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25 tracked student concerns about academic performance and mental health. It found that concerns of academic performance nearly doubled (1.8 times) from the 2019-20 to the 2020-21 school year, and the rate of conversations about mental health grew 1.5 times since the pandemic started, revealing that students have felt isolated.

“There’s intense isolation. Before the pandemic happened, you had groups of friends,” said Dr. Shannon Farris, PsyD, CHADS Coalition for Mental Health in
St. Louis. “After the pandemic, all those groups disappeared. 
All the social interaction and maturation came to a halt.”

Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests there were existing stressors in the home, school and community that were compromising the mental health and well-being of young people for at least twelve years prior to the pandemic. The suicide rate among persons aged 10–24 was stable from 2000 to 2007, and then increased 56% between 2007 (6.8 per 100,000) and 2017 (10.6). Furthermore, the pace of increase for suicide was greater from 2013 to 2017 (7% annually, on average) than from 2007 to
2013 (3% annually).

“Hence, the more accurate interpretation of the current events is that COVID-19 has made a bad situation worse,” said Dr. Charles L. Alexander, PsyD, Illinois &
Indiana Licensed Clinical Psychologist. “Programs such as Expressions are therefore needed now more than ever.”

Expressions Challenge by Walgreens will officially launch January 15, 2022. Look for information in participating stores, schools and on the Expressions Challenge website, Also check out artwork from past winners here: drive/folders/1vRTdbnmuxovt6L9QZAelLv0MthtF- 42wV?usp=sharing.

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