SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - For National Mental Health Awareness Month, the YMCA of San Diego County is trying to make sure teens have all the resources they need.
"It comes down to connection," says YMCA Community Engagement Director Justin Lipford. "We believe a connected community is a healthy community."
To that end, the YMCA is offering free admission to all of their locations for anyone ages 13-24. They're also conducting weekly support groups for parents and caregivers to make sure the entire family is engaged in helping with mental health problems.
"It's looking at these youngsters and teenagers and saying we got you," says Lipford. "But it's also looking at the parents and caretakers and saying we understand that this is an important issue that might be overwhelming for you."
Declines in mental health has become a crisis among teenagers over the last 10 years. According to data from a 2019 CDC report, 36.7% of teenagers had "persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness."
The report also found 18.8% of teens have contemplated suicide, 15.7% made a suicide plan, and 8.9% attempted suicide.
All of those numbers are up significantly from 2009. Even more troubling, those numbers all come from before the COVID-19 Pandemic, which experts agree only made things worse.
"We know it's happening in our communities," says Lipford. "We need to see more of the community coming together to help out."
For 24 year-old Alan Gonzalez, the YMCA gym has become his "mental health space." He says he goes there to "get rid of my demons."
"It's my way of calming down, releasing my stress from day to day," says Gonzalez.
He also works in the new Teen Center at the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA. He wants to make sure other teens get the same help.
"They're going through things that a lot of people will never go through in their life, at very young ages. And to them that's normal. And it shouldn't be," Gonzalez says. "Whatever space they have to help them overcome these obstacles they're facing and make them mentally stronger, it's very necessary."
Lipford adds it's a mission the YMCA takes seriously.
"This initiative is not just about May," he says. "This is about how we are going to transform as a community in June and July and the rest of this year and really going forward as a whole."
For more details on the free access and support groups in May, click here.