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California youth have a mental health crisis. They can solve it themselves

California youth have a mental health crisis.  They can solve it themselves
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How can we best address the mental health crisis among California’s young people?

By empowering young people to solve it themselves.

Gonzales (population 8,600), in Monterey County, is doing just that. Since early 2020, middle school and high school students — members of the Gonzales Youth Council, a parallel city council — have been developing a mental health strategy for their community with such potential that a study on it was recently published in a peer-reviewed journal .

It’s no surprise that this happened in Gonzales, a Salinas Valley marvel of self-governance with a working-class population that is 90 percent Latino and one-third under age 18. Over the past generation, the town has prioritized public participation and youth empowerment in community problem-solving — a strategy dubbed “The Gonzales Way.” In the process, Gonzales has made eye-popping advances in everything from economic development to energy independence and won national awards for community health programs.

Gonzales’ Youth Council — a student-selected body of sixth to 12th graders — has real power, which it has used to write local laws on underage drinking, assist police-community relations efforts and participate in hiring at local schools.

Back in fall 2019, Youth Council commissioners resolved to focus their energies on mental health. When the pandemic hit, they accelerated their plans.

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