JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ky. — In recent times, discussions about mental health issues have been taken a lot more seriously than in the past. More resources are available than ever before for people who struggle.
Still, one Jefferson County teenager says they’re part of a demographic that’s overlooked. That teen is flying to Washington D.C. this weekend to try to get as many people as possible to start looking.
Earlier this school year, eighth grader Aster Kone’s social studies teacher asked students to write speeches to get on their soapbox about something they’re passionate about.
Kone, who uses the pronouns they/them, chose mental health.
“And then I just got this far. I don’t know how, but I did my best, and apparently it was good enough,” Kone said.
Kone is one of the several Jefferson County students attending the Mikva Challenge’s first annual National Youth Summit in Washington D.C.
About 100 diverse teens from around the country will talk, listen, learn, and advocate for solutions to issues most important to them, including mental health, gun reform, and women's access to health care.
Kone will speak this Sunday at historic Ford Theater for the summit's kick-off event, Soapbox Nation. Their speech encourages educators and other adults to take students' mental health needs seriously, an issue that’s personal to Kone, who had a bad illness that led to anxiety and depression.
“This is a very important issue because I struggle with it a lot. And most of my family does, too. And kids my age, they really just don’t know how to handle it, because they’re afraid to tell their parents or adults, so I want to help them know that it’s okay to ask for help,” Kone said.
Kone said when they tried to talk to an adult about their issue, they were told they were “probably just faking it.”
“If someone’s asking for help, just don’t push them away and say, 'Oh you’re too young to feel this way,' or 'You’re just faking it for attention.' It takes way too much courage to even ask for help,” Kone said. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff that I wish kids never have to go through, and I know that most of them are afraid that 'If I tell them, they’ll send me away. They won’t really care because I’m young.' And I feel like that really needs to get changed. And I know that even though I’m small, I can try to do my best with helping them.”
Kone and the other Jefferson County teens' participation in the summit comes as students' civics scores fell on a national assessment for the first time in two decades.
Results released earlier this month from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the nation's report card, showed civics scores declining for the first time since 1998 while U.S. history scores continued a nearly decade-long decline, according to a news release.
The event will draw hundreds of people in person and be available via livestream on Mikva's Facebook page. On social media, viewers can follow the hashtag #nationalyouthsummit.