The onset of the pandemic brought immense awareness to the mental health struggles of teens across the country. In Los Angeles, 51% of students expressed concern over their own mental health or the mental health of others. In 2022, 64.5% of youth with major depression remained untreated, while 10.6% of teens planned a suicide attempt. In the midst of these alarming statistics, health experts struggle to respond to the mental health crisis among adolescents. Fortunately, youth in Los Angeles found a unique outlet for positive social connection. Get Lit-Words Ignite uses poetry to inspire youth to connect to their peers and the world around them. We increasingly shift our programs to target the issues that modern youth face, especially in light of the pandemic and residual effects of social media.
The use of Spoken Word poetry in the classroom has been gaining momentum for a number of years. A professor at Bath Spa University in the United Kingdom, Lucy English, introduced spoken word into her Creative Writing curriculum in 2005. She reports that Spoken Word poetry assists in relieving stress and increasing confidence as students work through mental health issues like anxiety. At Get Lit, we’ve found analogous results through our programs and curriculum. Most importantly, students describe the realization that they are not alone and that others are going through similar emotions and experiences. Science confirms these results. In the Philippines, researchers tested the effects of visual arts and poetry on adolescents who experienced abuse. The study found poetry was effective in decreasing depression, and to a lesser extent, post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, another study from China, completed in 2022, found that an intervention on poetry appreciation on college and university campuses resulted in increased emotional stability and decreased apprehension and tension.
To bring light to poetry’s connection with mental health, we used a grant from the California Mental Health Services Authority and partnered with William Morris Endeavor to develop a symposium that premiered on May 23. The event featured a 30 minute segment of a documentary about teenagers in the Get Lit program, as well as live poetry performances from youth poets Sam Luo and Amari Turner. The coming-of-age documentary Our Words Collide by directors Jordan Barrow and Matt Edwards, follows the lives of five teenagers through their senior year of high school as they experience the onset of the pandemic. Through Spoken Word, the teens express their feelings on mental health and its impact on their daily lives. The symposium acknowledged the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, which offers a time to reflect, discuss, and connect. Following the documentary feature and youth poet performances, mental health activist Héctor Tobar brought the community together with a discussion on mental health.
Positive and strong relationships contribute significantly to the growth of youth. Given the lack of access to mental health services and the widespread, and increasing nature of mental health issues among Los Angeles based teens, organizations such as Get Lit offer an alternative way to increase societal connection through the power of Spoken Word. Storytelling through poetry can assist in overcoming a range of issues that the youth poems discuss such as isolation, anxiety, and depression. Researchers have found that poetry normalizes the conversation around mental health, and encourages youth to discuss their issues with the world. As Get Lit- Words Ignite expands into programs for film and music, we hope to continue finding outlets of creativity to combat mental health issues.