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Mom’s cell phone vibrates on the kitchen counter. She reaches to check it and a video message from her daughter begins to play:This is really difficult for me to tell you. I know you think I have everything, but depression is real. It’s not a choice. I don’t want to feel this way, and I want you to understand.” 


The scene is featured in one of ten public service announcements developed by the Pennsylvania-based organizations United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (UWGLV) and Resilient Lehigh Valley. In the series, known as #YouthSpeakUpLV, the organizations aim to help bridge the gap between teenagers and their parents. Though portrayed by actors, the messages come directly from young people living amid a youth mental health crisis.  

“The U.S. Surgeon General has described this issue as the crisis of our time. If we want a community filled with thriving students and families, we must be united in how we support our young people and their families,” said Marci Lesko, UWGLV’s incoming Chief Executive Officer.

The idea for the #YouthSpeakUpLV campaign emerged from a Youth Mental Health Summit that the organizations hosted in late 2022 in partnership with the Aevidum organization.  Aevidum empowers youth to shatter the silence surrounding depression, suicide and other issues facing teens. It was during the summit that young people from school-based Aevidum clubs in our region passionately advocated for a youth-to-parent educational campaign led by their peers and deeply informed by their unique experiences.

Lesko noted that at that summit, more than 200 students shared their thoughts, ideas and needs: “What we learned is that students in our region are suffering. We knew we had to take action immediately.”

UWGLV took on the task of creating a dedicated platform for the powerful voices of our youth to be heard. Over the ensuing months the organization’s Director of Community Resilience, Ashi Singh, engaged with dozens of students from six schools and various youth-serving organizations. They shared the challenges in finding the right words to explain their feelings to their parents and families. 

“These dialogues became the starting point for identifying pivotal themes and insights, which we wove into the #YouthSpeakUpLV campaign. The process was collaborative, ensuring that the content genuinely resonated with the intended audience and that the messaging hit the mark with area youth,” said Singh, who co-leads Resilient Lehigh Valley, a cross-sector, collective impact effort dedicated to increasing youth resilience through creating a trauma-informed and resilient community.

Through a series of focus groups, Lehigh Valley teenagers provided direct input that quickly turned into scripts for the impactful public service announcement videos. Their unique experiences deeply inform this campaign and aim to bridge the generational gap on crucial topics surrounding youth mental health and personal resilience.

“I wish I could snap out of it or get over it or toughen up. When you keep telling me I’m fine, it isn’t helpful,” says a teenager in one of the videos. 

“The pressure I put on myself feels so overwhelming,” says a young man in another. 

Respecting the privacy and well-being of the youth who shaped the campaign, student actors were featured in the videos, which were expertly produced by Emmy® Award-winning educational media company eMediaWorks, and generously funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development; this partnership assured a standard of excellence in content quality. The scripts for the PSA campaign were carefully crafted, directly drawing from the candid discussions and insights shared during the youth focus groups and the 2022 Youth Mental Health Summit. This approach ensured both authenticity and a profound respect for the voices of those who contributed.

The culmination came at the 2023 Youth Mental Health Summit. The event offered an opportunity to premiere the #YouthSpeakUpLV PSA campaign to a similar audience of local school-based Aevidum club members. The digital campaign features a series of nine short videos and an overview explaining the project’s origin and purpose. 

During the 2023 summit, attendees were asked about the most effective means of delivering the campaign’s message to parents. Most agreed that social media, especially Facebook, would be the ideal platform for ensuring parental exposure to the content, thereby heightening parental awareness of the challenges faced by teenagers and young adults.

In the weeks that followed, the #YouthSpeakUpLV videos were unveiled on both United Way’s and Resilient Lehigh Valley’s social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. The organizations encouraged their partners, local schools, and stakeholders dedicated to fortifying youth resilience and mental health to share the videos by following the hashtag #YouthSpeakUpLV and amplifying the message throughout our region.


“As we launched the campaign, we heard from parents who appreciated the candid messages. Once they understood, they wanted to take action and do the ‘right thing’ but didn’t always know how,” said Singh. “So, we’ve answered #YouthSpeakUp with #ParentsOpenUp.” 

Premiering this spring, #ParentsOpenUp is a series of social media videos featuring real parents and grandparents offering practical ways that they connect with their children, and especially teens, in an unscripted format. 

“We worked with parents who are also professionals trained in mindfulness and trauma-informed practices. It’s important that parents know they’re not alone, and support is available for their kids and themselves. We want the videos to make parents feel hopeful and empowered in building stronger connections with their children,” added Singh.

United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley has identified that supporting our region’s mental health across all age groups is essential to building a community where every person belongs and every person thrives. This collaboration with students is a testament to how organizations can effectively respond to the pressing youth mental health crisis. By empowering youth voices, United Way, Resilient Lehigh Valley and Aevidum have forged a formidable platform for dialogue and understanding, tirelessly working toward a brighter, more resilient future for youth and community.

Laura McHugh

Laura McHugh is Vice President, Marketing & Communications of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. The videos in the #YouthSpeakUpLV campaign are all available at