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Acts of Kindness Impact Youth Mental Health

Channel Kindness authors engaging in conversation, Photo: Courtesy Shadille Estepan, Born This Way Foundation

Acts of kindness can improve mental health and help us move forward through crises. There are simple steps we can take to build kinder communities.


Alex Aide (He/Him/His)

Director of Programs and Impact, Born This Way Foundation

The pandemic’s toll on youth mental health has caused a significant increase in ideation of suicide. With a 22.3 percent spike in ER trips reported in 2020 among youth, it is imperative we show compassion and kindness to those around us. You’re in the world and just by existing today, you very likely mean the world to someone else, especially the young people in your life. We must continue to remind each other of this. 

This past year has been hard, and even though we have made some progress on contending with the global effects of COVID-19, moving back to some semblance of “normal” at school, work, and in our everyday lives has proven to be daunting for many. 

A recent Associated Press article on the mental health toll on youth from isolation notes “the overwhelming demand for pediatric mental health services is putting an unprecedented strain on pediatric facilities, primary care, schools and community-based organizations that support kids’ well-being.” All of us play a key role in supporting them through this time and beyond, and it’s crucial we provide hope, resources, and validation. Your kindness matters, even if it’s hard to believe. 

Kindness has a significant impact on youth mental health, with 94% of young people saying simple, small acts of kindness can make a big difference, according to Born This Way Foundation’s recent survey with The Harris Poll. Most young people say experiencing more kindness would improve their mental wellness—be it from others (73%), themselves (74%), or observed in the world around them (71%). 

Young people are leading the charge in showing us that “returning to normal” is not enough because “normal” didn’t work for so many of us. The path ahead through our ongoing crises may be challenging, but if we hold on to the fact that kindness makes a big difference in our lives, and especially in young people’s lives, we can build a kinder and braver world that youth envision. It doesn’t take much more to get started than  a simple act of kindness toward ourselves and each other. 

A majority (73%) of young people say receiving kindness improves their mental wellness, but experiencing kindness varies across race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and financial security. The acts of kindness young people most commonly say would have the biggest impact on their mental wellness are having someone who: listens when they have a problem (85% say it would have a big/moderate impact), believes in them and encourages them to do their best (83%), and checks-in on them or asks if they’re doing OK (80%). 

Here are a few ways we can all show kindness:

  1. Listen when someone has a problem and learn how to be there for them: created Be There, which equips young people with the knowledge and confidence they need to recognize if a peer is struggling with their mental health, lean into the tough conversations, and connect them with support. It is a profound act of kindness to be present for your loved ones, validate their experiences, and show up for their mental wellness. 
  2. Believe in and encourage others to do their best: If you’re searching for support or hoping to share helpful information with a friend, visit Please Stay to find evidence-based self-care tips, suggestions for anchors, and mental health resources.You are enough.
  3. Introducing yourself with pronouns: Transgender and non-binary youth say the act of introducing yourself using pronouns is among the top acts that would have a big improvement on mental wellness. Your seemingly simple act of kindness, introducing yourself with your pronouns and modeling that behavior, has the power to validate and affirm the young people in your lives. 

Individual and collective acts of kindness were made visible on the world stage in this past year with classrooms teaming up to build new learning systems, communities celebrating and thanking frontline workers, people across the globe coming together to demand a more just world.

Kindness is action. Kindness is lifesaving. And you and your kindness deeply matter. 

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