The Kids Are NOT Alright with Dr. Anthony Iton and Leslie Campos | Crooked Media
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June 06, 2023
America Dissected
The Kids Are NOT Alright with Dr. Anthony Iton and Leslie Campos

In This Episode

The pandemic took a major toll on the mental health of young people. But truth be told, mental illness had been rising among young people for the decade before that. Abdul reflects on the causes of mental illness in young people. Then he sits down with Leslie Campos, a youth organizer and entrepreneur and Dr. Anthony Iton, Senior Vice President at the California Endowment, to discuss the rise in teen mental illness and its causes.




[AD BREAK] [music break]


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: President Biden is set to appoint Dr. Mandy Cohen as the US’s 20th CDC director. Congress reaches a deal to avert a default crisis with some important implications for health. A new report from the CDC shows that 40% of foodborne illness outbreaks at restaurants begin with sick workers. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. [music break] Alone, secluded, and with nothing but a screen to connect you to the outside world. If this defines your pandemic experience, you’re not alone. The pandemic tore millions of people away from the things they know and love. Forced us to quote, “socially distance” from the very thing that’s probably most important for our mental health, other people. For me, I was lucky. We sheltered in place with family, moving in with my in-laws who helped care for our then two year old while we struggled to work from home. At one point we had eight people in the home. Don’t get me wrong, I missed all my friends and family whom the pandemic kept from me, but I wasn’t nearly as isolated as folk stuck in an apartment alone. The impact of the pandemic was particularly bad for folks in the most social period of their lives, in their youth. So much of the experience of being young is dictated by our interactions with other people. And the pandemic hit just as the spring of 2020 came in, ripping young people away from so many of the social landmarks that define the average American young person’s experience, prom, graduation, summer vacation. But while it’s on vogue to blame the pandemic for the rise in teen mental illness, it’s been happening for a lot longer than that. Between 2008 and 2017, the percentage of teens experiencing depression jumped, jumped 63%. Rates of teen suicide nearly doubled in the two decades between 1999 and 2019. Here, I want to pause and remind everyone that if you or someone you love is struggling, make sure to get help. The number is nine, eight, eight. Again. That’s nine, eight, eight. Please. So it’s not just the pandemic. These trends preceded the pandemic by at least a decade. So what’s up? Well, it has a lot to do with an announcement from the surgeon general that we talked about last week. 


[clip of unspecified news reporter] For decades, there’s been that surgeon general’s warning on packs of cigarettes. But this morning, for the first time, a new warning about something else, social media and what it means for kids mental health. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Let me age myself here. I remember when quote, “the Facebook” first dropped. I was a freshman in college, one of the first 10,000 people on the site. This was the end of 2003. And all of us thought this website where we could keep in touch with our friends when we weren’t together was just the absolute coolest thing. But like most of my friends, I had a flip phone. The iPhone wouldn’t come out until I graduated college in 2007. Laptops were a luxury. So while the Facebook was a nice distraction from getting work done when you were at a computer, it wasn’t at the palm of our hands and the top of our minds. Fast forward a decade to 2013. Social media isn’t relegated to the Facebook anymore, which, by the way, now has 1.23 billion users. But a plethora of new sites all competing for our eyeballs and eardrums. More than half of American adults have a smartphone, putting wireless Internet and social media in their pockets, making that competition so much more vicious. Already social mores are shifting around this new normal. More of the interactions we would have had in person are shifting online. And that was 2013, a decade ago. And that’s also the point at which experts track a disturbing trend, rates of teen mental illness start to climb. There are lots of reasons for this. FOMO is a big one. Fear of missing out. In case you don’t know what FOMO stands for. Think about it. Social media feeds are basically a highlight reel of other people’s lives. By comparison, they make our mundane lives feel, well, mundane. That beautiful latte with the perfect latte art is so much better than the boring cup I just drink. Why wasn’t I invited to that lit party on Saturday? I Netflixed again. And because it’s designed to be addictive, we lose our sense of boundaries. Teens are sleeping less because they’re scrolling more. And it’s not just the time spent scrolling. It’s all that blue light that keeps us awake too. Tricking our brains into thinking we should be awake. And then there’s the fact that those corporations who intermediate so much of our lives on the Internet understand that the single most important thing they can do to keep us scrolling is to scare us or piss us off. So they’ve devised algorithms that show us the worst of each other to keep us enraged or afraid, which of course leaves us enraged and afraid. And rather than reassure ourselves that the world is not in fact an evil, scary place by spending time with the people we love. Social media displaces in real life interactions with the online versions of one another, sending us through the doom spiral one more time. Rather than community groups or pick up leagues, we watch TikTok. For folks right around my age or older, we spent the most formative years of our lives outside the bounds of social media. We built the social muscles to live offline, even if they’ve deeply atrophied through so much time online. So it’s easy for some of us to think of social media as a choice. But for younger folks who’ve grown up in the era of social media ubiquity, defines their social environment. It’s so built into the social infrastructure of their lives that opting out becomes nearly impossible. It means simply walking away from the platforms that intermediate so much of how they even live and interact. Which is why the Surgeon General’s advisory last week is so critical. It recognizes the crisis of teen mental illness for what it is and one of the most important circumstances that’s driving it. Late last year, the California Endowment did a benchmark poll of young people to understand the crisis from their perspective. The findings were staggering. More than three quarters, 75% of the young people surveyed reported anxiety. More than half reported depression. A third one in three of them reported suicidal thinking. Those numbers would have been unfathomable a few decades ago, but frankly, they’re unsurprising today. I wanted to understand a bit more about what’s driving them. So I reached out to Dr. Tony Iton, senior vice president at the California Endowment. And true to form, he suggested that it wouldn’t be enough to get his perspective. We needed to hear from the young folks at the heart of the crisis. He suggested I speak to Leslie Campos, a youth organizer and entrepreneur, about the work they’re doing together to address the crisis too. Here’s my admittedly lovely conversation with Leslie Campos and Dr. Tony Iton. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Okay. Can you introduce yourself for the tape? 


Leslie Campos: Hi, everyone. My name is Leslie Campos. I am here today as a representation of the Biz Stoop, which is a social enterprise that focuses on educational consulting, lifestyle curation, and youth development platform. Um. And we bring opportunities to our youth, specifically Black and Brown youth, through communities. I have been part of the program for the past year, year and a half, and it has been an amazing experience. I myself went through the program and got a grant. I got my first grant through the Biz Stoop and it was a beautiful opportunity and I was able to start my own project, which I’m also the founder and executive director of SoyHood. And SoyHood is a social enterprise and streetwear brand that focuses on uplifting Black and Brown youth through creativity. I also work with um [?] age population during the day and work with um housing. So I work in the L.A. area and do work around problem solving and prevention and evictions with youth in the in the community. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Keeps you keeps you super busy. I’m super glad that you found some time to join us today, uh Anthony? 


Tony Iton: And hello, everybody. My name’s Tony Iton. I am the senior vice president of the California Endowment, which is California’s largest health foundation. And our focus is really on trying to create equity, uh working with grassroots communities to build power, to change the story about who we are as Californians and to invest in fundamental um policy that creates meaningful opportunity for all Californians. And we’re highly engaged in working with young people across the state because we feel like young people are rocket fuel for change. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, I certainly agree. You know, Tony and Leslie, you all come at this from um different perspectives. But but in some respects, a joint perspective. Um, Leslie I’m going to start with you. And I want to ask you, as you think about your community of peers, how is mental health affecting your generation? What are the kinds of things that you hear from your friends and your colleagues? 


Leslie Campos: I, first of all, being a first um gen Latina, growing up with a, being a kid of immigrants, I often think a lot of the people in my community and especially the youth that I work with, the the conversation around mental health, right. Like I feel like oftentimes in our communities, our families, we don’t have these conversations, Like we don’t talk about mental health. I feel like oftentimes, especially like [indistinct], we when we try to bring that up, it’s easily shut down, right? So how do we start shifting the conversations? And I think now, like just looking back in our community and just working with our youth now, like how do you provide safe spaces? Right? So I think a lot yeah about that, like the stigmatization around mental health and I think about how our resources, right, lack of resources within communities of color. I see us [?] and housing I think about also as well the lack of resources within housing programs and how housing is tied to a lot of mental health of what as well, right. And being in the front line, I see a lot of that being tied into stability and how stability also impacts our mental health as individuals. And I’ve seen the process of how our youth who come from the streets in survival mode, right, how when they get housed or like they get their basic needs met, it does help a lot and shift a lot of the mental health. Right. And just seeing that like I see a lot of like housing, just like basic rights and creating more cultural spaces for for youth specifically as well, that’s very important. I think oftentimes, like when we look at therapy or solutions for youth, we also have to provide cultural background, right? Also appropriate therapy, right? So making sure our youth, Black and Brown youth are connected to the right resources that are actually are culturally appropriate for them. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And Tony, you come at this from the perspective of a former health official now with one of the most important uh foundations focused on health and health justice and equity uh in California in particular. But your work is is really uh national in scope. I want to ask you, what got you in the California Endowment interested in this issue? Why did you feel like you really needed to put a poll out there and shed light on the challenges that uh that this generation of young folks are facing? 


Tony Iton: Well, it’s you know, quite frankly it, the issue kind of like reared up in our faces. I mean, we we recognized even before the pandemic that many our young people, many of our young people are really struggling. And we were doing work in 14 low income communities across the state of California, trying to organize people and help them hold systems accountable for more equity. And part of that process was bringing people together and having conversations. And our young people were telling us about the trauma that they were experiencing in in every aspect of their lives. It was really quite astounding. And we had to recognize the fact that in our society we create stress incubators, places where young people are basically bereft of all of the resources that they need to be able to manage their healthy development. They’re the infrastructure for youth development has been absolutely obliterated. The Boys and Girls Clubs, the, you know, the police activities leagues, the Pop Warner football, Little League baseball, all of that stuff literally doesn’t exist um in many parts of the state of California and other parts of the country. And never mind, you know, access to things like summer camps or music programs and the like. People can’t afford that. So what we were seeing was that young people, they would tell us from 2:15 in the afternoon for the rest of the day, they had literally nothing to do. And when that’s the case, they found essentially the youth development was happening in gangs and other kind of organized activities that um, you know, the youth themselves would pull together. So we felt like we had neglected this, a generation of of young people, particularly low income young people in our rural part of the state, in the Central Valley and in the Inland Empire, but also in Oakland and L.A. and San Francisco. And our feeling was that this was already in crisis before the pandemic, then the pandemic hit. And that coupled with, you know, young people being pulled out of schools, being on Zoom for for, you know, their education, uh the social media bullying that was happening and continues to happen. Um. All of this just basically synergistically and cumulatively created enormous stress in the lives of these young people. And many of young people started talking about suicidality and, you know, talking about, you know, in some cases, you know, acted out in in violent ways. So you couldn’t you couldn’t confront this problem from just one angle. You saw it being impacted by so many different things that were happening in society. And it wasn’t just, you know, a youth here or youth there. It was the the bulk of young people were telling us day in, day out about the trauma that they were having to navigate in their daily lives. And we just couldn’t look away anymore. [music break]. 




Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And you all did a, a landmark uh poll to understand what the what the impacts really are. And I’m going to dig into the the stressors a bit, in particular with you, Leslie. But what were the broad take home uh top lines for you? You know, when you put that poll in the field, what did you expect to find and then what did you actually find?


Tony Iton: In terms of top line, um we had the U.S. Surgeon General come out to California because uh we had a relationship with him and his office. And uh he was talking about a report that he had put out that was looking at young people and mental health. And he’s more recently put out one on loneliness in America. And he was very concerned about the just the percentages of young people that were expressing um significant mental health challenges. And so in passing and conversations with him, we recognized what I was just describing earlier, the level of trauma that young people were having to navigate on a day, daily basis. And so we decided we were going to have a summit in California. And so we had the U.S. surgeon general, we had the California Surgeon General uh and a number of officials from the state. And then we brought in young people and we wanted the young people uh from across the state to just inform the surgeon general about what their day to day realities are like and the solutions that they had seen work well. Um. And we can talk about that, you know, a little bit later. And so this we had a two day session and it was it was shocking the level of distress that the young people were describing. And particularly when I when I say distress, I’m talking about, you know, levels of suicidality and, you know, folks that were acting out in ways that you or I would act out if we were under that amount of stress. They didn’t have the resources to cope with it, and they were just facing stressor after stressor after stressor, including, you know, being on the verge of homelessness or being actively homeless um and lacking basic resources like food. So so this is we decided to do the poll to just get some numbers, you know, around these issues. And and so that’s what you saw and Leslie can talk about that as well. 


Leslie Campos: Yes. So I’m actually um so this is my first uh the past couple of months is my first time doing the research and just kind of really getting into all of this. But I’m part of the Youth Mental Wellness Committee through the Biz Stoop. And that’s where we’re doing the research on where which we’re actively doing research right now. We’re providing um we’re providing a survey to our community of our care network, which is also California Youth Rising, and that’s a small other  [?] project of the Biz Stoop where any youth ages like eight um 18-30, because then we expand what youth really means, if you think about like that idea that 18 is like until adulthood. But that’s not the reality of life. I feel like youth is expansive and I love that the Biz Stoop has been able to expand what youth looks like. But with that we’ve been able to really um do surveys and provide funds for youth in our community to do this service, which we created that really centered the voice of youth in the community and what they want and what they looks like. So programs that take ideas and take all these numbers and all these ideas and try to create right what the solution looks like for just like in the future. And a lot of what I found. Yeah, like I think what Anthony was saying like loneliness like I think with like capitalism, like we’ve really shifted away from community and like, I think now with the pandemic, it even got a little worse. And just like with us dealing with our own mental health and I think with the age demographic, we’ve seen a lot like at least in my experience, 18 to 24, 18 to 25, we see a lot of heightened of mental health symptoms coming up. That’s like the prime age where we see a lot because that’s when we’re going into adulthood. That’s when we’re dealing with like daily life um we’re being, to [cough] um, we’re supposed to have housing all of this, right? So there’s a lot of pressure coming. But yes, a lot of that. We’ve seen a lot of that in the studies and also just in like general, like my own like, yeah, like being in this field. I think there’s like a lot of at individual level, like we have to really do a lot of inner work too as well to come from a trauma informed perspective when it comes to youth and, and dealing with folks with high mental needs instead of criminalizing them and being like, oh, like when things pop off, how can we come as a community, right? How could we shift that narrative? Um. But yes, that’s a little bit of a kind of what I was saying. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, I really appreciate that perspective. And, you know, just to step back. I’m I’m 38, um and so I’m in this, like, weird, odd place in my life where I can’t credibly call myself young anymore. Um. But, I came up in a time where I feel like I share a lot more life experience with with younger folks than with with older folks, especially considering how much has changed in the course of our shared lifetime around the ubiquity of the Internet and the way that we manifest and intermediate social experience through it problematically and we’ll talk a little bit more about that. But I think about my generation and, you know, we had the nineties and the nineties were pretty glorious I’m not going to lie. Right. So so you talked about stability earlier and the stability that came in that, right. I turned 13 uh sorry, 16 in the year 2000 and most of my youth had been behind me at that point. And that’s when things started to get pretty rocky, right? I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. And you know, I’m a Middle Eastern uh young man. So that that that that really created a social milieu that changed my experience. And then I graduated college into the Great Recession. I um raised my my my first toddler in the midst of the pandemic, and all that was pretty bad. But then I think about the fact that, you know, I was 22 right? And I have a younger sister who’s 22. You were born into the post 9/11 era for most of your life our country’s been at war in two different places. The Great Recession was when you were a kid and the number of people who lost homes and the instability that came with that in childhood. Watched their parents lose jobs is pretty immense. And then you think about you’re trying to, you know, get your first job out of high school or go to college in the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years. That’s some kind of instability. Right. And I’d love to hear, Leslie, your perspective on the role that our national experience has played in shaping the experience of young people. Because, like, you know, the before this the going the going I hate to say it joke was like, you know, somebody grew up in the Depression. It scarred them. It changed the way they thought about things. Right. And I think for a lot of this generation, we’re going to be like, oh, no, they came up in the recession or they came up in the pandemic. And, you know, when you when your your great grandchildren are like, yo why did they do that? They’d be like, oh, it’s the pandemic kids, um I’d love to hear a little bit about that instability and the ways that that shapes the experience of, you know, trauma and challenge that people in your generation face. 


Leslie Campos: Ooh, that’s a really good question. So I think this what what I’ve seen a lot with this generation a lot and is a lot more youth, a lot more folks are speaking up about mental health. That’s like one thing, definitely, especially with social media. We’ve seen a lot more conversations. I’ve noticed a lot. And at least in the youth with I work with the youth directly in my life. Like I think me coming from being a social worker, me being on the front lines, me being trained to come from a trauma informed lens, like I’ve seen a lot of our generation start having these conversations around mental health, start having these conversations in our families. I, from my own experience, have started these conversations and creating a space for our our youth are able to talk about what’s going on, to talk about depression, to talk about the realities of life and how we experience this in our everyday life. And, you know, often times like our parents could be a little harsh when it comes to like dealing with depression. You know, I think something I’ve seen a lot and it’s like, are youth coming together and like creating spaces for us to have dialogs, right? And it’s important to have like also like programs that are youth led and youth focused um but going. Yeah. Going back to your question, yeah, there’s been a lot more conversations around what healing looks like, and I think that’s what’s really different now with um our youth now is that they’re understanding the truths and finally realizing that they have the power to heal themselves and connect and take therapy. And really, like, even like when you think about therapy, I know growing up for me, like therapy was something, was like not accepted or like is always at least and like um a lot of Latino culture is like, oh like, that’s like you’re crazy. But it’s like, no, it’s, it’s what is needed. It’s like we need to tap into ourselves. And I think there’s a lot of push with this generation trying to focus on healing. And I think that that’s a lot what has changed and also like social media has had a great impact on that as well. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So what I’m hearing you’re saying is almost like so many folks in your generation have gone through so many big society wide traumas that it’s almost like the generation had no choice but to like face up to it and be like, yo, this is this is not okay. And and we got to we got to deal with this. And I think I think you’re right um that, you know, when I think about uh this generation. I told you, I have a I have a younger brother who’s eight years younger and younger sister who’s 15 years younger. So my brother just turned 30 and my sister is 20, I think she’s just she’s about to turn 23. Um. And the difference between us, right, we sort of, the chasm between us is from a from a generational standpoint, like all the things that have changed, you know, my sister is so much more versed in the language of mental health and the conversations about mental health. And I think you’re right that social media played a really big part of that. The other part of it, and I want to get both of your perspectives on this. The other part of it is that I feel like social media has also, in so many ways gobbled up a lot of the means of healing, right like it creates this place where you can have a conversation about mental health, but the things that really sustain us tend to be in-person nurturing relationships. Right. And I feel like um the corporations that that that manage social media, they’ve realized that their real competition wasn’t just each other. Their real competition was all the time that you spend actually looking somebody in the face and talking to them. And so they made more and more of your or our social interactions uh mediated by their companies so that they could sell us stuff via ads. Right? And so we’re like, we’re having a conversation, but we’re like not doing the thing on the other end of the conversation. That’s the fix it. And I think about this because I was a freshman in college when when the Facebook came out. Right. When when it when it first started, it was a Mark Zuckerberg production. We were like, this is amazing. What a better way to connect with our friends. And then soon enough, right, we weren’t connecting with our friends. We were like liking their stuff, but it wasn’t the same conversation that we’d had. And so, you know, it’s odd. I kind of lived through that transition and watched my younger siblings uh work through it. And so it’s had both both upside and downside. So I’ll pose this question to you, Tony, and then I want to get your perspective on it, too Leslie. Thinking about your youth, Tony, and the the the nurturing relationships that you had and then reflecting on the ways that um this generation uh interacts, what are the qualitative differences that you see and how do you see them playing out in terms of the way that you might manage the bumps and bruises of life? 


Tony Iton: Wow, what a fantastic question. Um. Well, let me just start by saying that, you know, part of the reason that I have no doubts that this is a serious issue was, you know, looking at the polling data and seeing that, you know, 75% of young people felt that this that mental health was a serious issue in their lives and you know a majority of them felt like they didn’t belong. And belonging is something when I was a young person, I felt despite being a Black kid growing up in a largely white environment, um there were institutions that essentially helped us develop our skills, our talents, our interests. There were places to play sports. There were places where you could gain leadership. Um. This was all part of the milieu that I grew up with. And what was critical in those institutional settings were that they they created a platform for deep relationships, both with people that were your age, but also with adults. And this is one of the things that we measure in um youth development is meaningful relationships with adults who are not your parents, you know, and opportunities to exercise leadership. And somebody who believes in your future believes that you have a gift or a talent or a skill that can be developed and contribute to you know the well-being of society. And so I think in my generation and I grew up in the, you know, seventies and eighties, um that stuff was just more readily available. When we spent time in in the Central Valley um doing the work that we’re doing now. Um. And as I mentioned, young people would tell us that after 2:15, they had nowhere to go. Um. Gone was all that infrastructure. We just couldn’t find it. And it was so bad. In fact, in a place called Merced in California’s Central Valley, um young people were saying, you know, in the middle of the summer, the temperature gets up to 106 degrees and the city of Merced had closed the public pools because they felt they couldn’t invest the resources in lifeguards for the pools. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. Hmm.


Tony Iton: So they shut the pools down in 106 degree temperature. And this is the difference between when I grew up where you had infrastructure, you had opportunities as a young person to forge those kinds of meaningful relationships with others and and help that helped you develop a sense of belonging that you were a part of society. People knew your story, you knew other people’s story. You were seen, you had a voice. This is a fundamental human need. And we have essentially stripped the infrastructure for that kind of youth development from our society and replaced it with a cell phone where there is an enormous amount of a diminution of people’s self-esteem in that setting, through bullying, through judging themselves against the lives of others who are portraying their wealth and their, you know, their existences. And so I, I fundamentally recognize that we have a deep problem in this society. We have to rebuild. You know, starting from the ground up, a sense of meaningful belonging uh for young people in this society because we are in crisis, the majority of these young people are recognizing fundamental issues with their mental health. And we cannot sustain this kind of status. It will it will erupt in ways that we can’t even predict. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Mmm. Leslie, you know, your generation was or is Internet native. Uh. You know, what’s interesting to me is that your generation is about to look at the generation after you and be like, oh, man, they came up in the AI native times. Uh. So [laughing] I was like, I can’t believe they’re friends with a machine anyway. Um. [laugh] Tell me tell me a little bit about what it’s like to have come up in a time when the Internet is so ubiquitous that you don’t remember a time without it. And, you know, as you think about your reflection on Anthony or on Tony’s generation or on mine, how how does that show up in the way that you all think about the relationships that you share, the interactions that you uh engage in? Um. And then I want to talk a little bit about Biz Stoop, because it seems like, you know, and I see this in your generation really pushing back against it. But tell me about a little bit about kind of your reflection from the, you know, the younger generation looking older. 


Leslie Campos: Yes. So, oooh yeah, again, social media could be 50/50. There’s really dope opportunities to build community. But there’s also the other dark side of the social, the media right. And I think. Yeah. Yeah. I just want to emphasize what Anthony was saying. Yeah. I think it’s very important to provide spaces for a community and building community. I feel like now with our generation, a lot of youth do get stuck to their like cell phone or get so obsessed with being liked and being part of the social media community and, uh you know, like, especially like growing up in L.A. now, we still are like influencer life and like, all that, like, right. But it’s also like, I think it’s very important to also create spaces. I think for myself, right, I reflect on a lot in the work that I do. How can I create a space where our youth understand their individuality and the importance of their uniqueness, which is how I started Soyhood, which is uh we focus a lot on storytelling and the importance of our individual experiences and how these experiences can create mass movements. How with each conversation, each dialog that we have, we are planting the seeds for our youth regardless with social media or not not social media, like we want to be able to provide our youth creative opportunities, right? So yes, I think just reflecting yeah it’s been it’s kind of uh so I kind of grew up in the age of where like, yeah, I was I remember MySpace coming up, everything coming up, all that. That’s like and it just being and TikTok, everybody just that culture is like we have to learn to also practice keeping our like community alive too outside of social media. And I think that’s kind of been my reflection in the past year is how do we do work outside just social media, but also creating spaces where our youth are able to have community, where they’re able to show up and authentically and just again tapping into their inner selves. [music break] [AD BREAK]


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I remember talking to a um uh a friend of my younger brother and uh we had met and, and he was like, Yo, you’re like a real life version of your Twitter. And for a minute I was like, Nah, man, my Twitter is a Twitter version of me in real life, like. And it was one of those things where I was like, Oh, wow, like a lot that there are a lot of people who who know me as a character on social media. And it’s almost like we’re all performing our own avatar and then I had another interaction with a friend and he was like, Oh, you know, you’re always posting on on on a Insta or whatever. And it, it makes me feel like I’m not, you know, I’m not out there fighting the good fight. And I was like the good fight doesn’t happen on my Instagram. Like if that’s where you think the good fight is like we’re missing we’re missing this. So I’m trying to be a lot more conscious about what I put out there and the ways that it shapes the ways other people think about themselves. Because FOMO is real and rarely does anybody be like, Hey, I woke up this morning and my my back kinda hurts and I had soggy cereal for breakfast. And uh then you know I went to work and it was rainy and I got to work and I got yelled at by my boss. And then I sat there for a while trying to work with I.T. to get my computer going. And then I read some emails and answered some emails. And then I went home, hung out with my cat and watched Netflix, which wasn’t that great. And I went to bed right because that’s most of our days, right? And nobody ever posts that. It’s like, oh, look at my perfect coffee, look at my amazing like trip that I took, right? And then you’re sitting there, you know, eating your mushy cereal and answering emails, being like, why am I not on an awesome trip? Why is my coffee not perfect? And, you know, and it and it shapes the the way that people interact with with the world. And I got to imagine that if more and more of your life is intermediated that way. The ways that it makes you feel both absorbed by that comparison and disconnected from those people experiencing those things has to be like devastating. Um. You are you are actively taking this on and both of you are uh solving this problem in different ways. Uh. Leslie, I want to start with you. Tell us a little bit about Soyhood and and and Biz Stoop and the kinds of venues, the space that they give you to be able to create that meaning and that connectiveness and that community um that that is so important and so many folks are missing. 


Leslie Campos: Yes. So I, um I’m glad I plugged in with Biz Stoop back in 2021. And I had heard about them through a colleague who I went to college with. And back in college, I did a lot of work, community organizing, work around food and food accessibility and work with youth and storytelling and housing. And um I got connected with this person, and uh I love [clapping hands together] them so much. They basically were like we see you doing your work like, come through, apply to Biz Stoop to the seed grant, which is a seed grant and basically they fund you [?] what it is a seed grant, right? And they’ll fund your idea and then you’ll be like, there’s a lot of really dope opportunities here. So I went ahead and basically applied for this and pitched Soyhood, and that was the first time I ever I, I just was like, okay, like, I’m gonna think of an idea like, what am I going to think of? I’ve always thought of like, how can I intersect me being first gen Latina, growing up in L.A., single mother, being a kid of immigrants, um being Oaxacan, right? And how do I build in all my community and the youth that I work with? So that’s how Soyhood came to be. I pitched it and then I got funded and that was the first grant I ever received. And honestly, to this day, that is a life changing moment that happened in my life because once I finished, I was I went through the process and it was like eight to ten month process where I learned a lot about writing a grant. I learned a lot about creating my first report. I’ve never done this. I’ve never had spaces to be able to learn about financial literacy. And just having Desiree and a whole network of Biz Stoop like I’ve been able to really network with folks. After I finished my first grant and we did the ten month, month cycle, eight to ten month cycle, we had our first retreat. And in that retreat, I just remember like meeting folks who I’ve been working alongside like online, but like getting to meet them in person. It was just amazing. Like it was life changing and getting to meet other like minded people who are doing work, community work, organizing with youth and just providing space. Like it was beautiful to see in person and just continuing to build relationships where I’ve been continuing to build relationships. And with the Biz Stoop specifically, I’ve been able to be part I actually in the past couple of months, like I got accepted to the Young Funders Committee, which is like a committee built by the Youth for the Youth, where we review grants, which was a first grant I received. So now I’m on a chair and uh we make the decisions and like we like it is an amazing opportunity because I’ve never thought I would be in a position to do that. Also being part of like the um Youth Mental Wellness Group where we’re doing research on how to create uh spaces for ancestral healing, how to center youth’s voices like these are things I never thought I would be doing, and not that I am like I love what I do. And I think just learning a lot and everything, like even from like when we had our youth mental wellness, like everything we do, we have weekly meetings and we would talk about topics, right? And I would take that back to my personal life and how can I implement that in the community of youth that I work with, right? So it’s always constantly learning and providing space for us to be one, safe. Coming from a trauma informed perspective I think is very important um and just being, learning what it is, right and having conversations about healing. I think again, right in this revolution to have these people in our lives. And yeah, I’m very thankful about the work that I’m doing with Biz Stoop. And like with SoyHood, I’ve been able to like in the past year because Biz Stoop was my seed and it was the foundation of where I started. I am now like I had started as a project, but now I what like a year and a half now I am a streetwear brand. I’ve been tapping into other communities in L.A. where I got funding. I’m going to work and the first our our first merch, which is called Planting the Seeds, and that one is dedicated to youth growing up in L.A. and each individual who I had modeled are are youth who have impacted through my work and sharing their stories and the impact that they’ve had and and just like, you know, and just uplifting youth. So, yeah, it’s been that was the seed. But now just watching it evolve and staying active in the community and making resources accessible to Black and Brown youth has been rewarding. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s uh amazing. What I what I hear you describing is self-actualization in community. Right, and if you take the analogy of a seed, a seed grows into a plant which produces a fruit, and then the fruit produces its own seeds, and that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re passing that forward in a really beautiful way. And you know, you can see we talk a lot about um the the broader quote, “upstream determinants of health,” the things that shape downstream health. And what you’re describing isn’t a traditional treatment for mental health, but what it is, is it’s addressing the things that are lacking in society that allow mental illness to take hold. Right. And it’s exactly that self-actualization in community that I that that that is that you’re describing just so beautifully and that work is amazing. Uh. And um you know, anyone anyone who’s interested in in SoyHood um streetwear where where they can where can they go to find it? 


Leslie Campos: Oh on Instagram y’all follow us on SoyHood. [laugh] So we’re doing our first drop that’s coming up in a couple of weeks. But yes, so where everything that is basically going to be helping funding our youth programming and continue the work that I’ve been doing through SoyHood. And yeah, this is just the beginning and I’m really inspired to continue. But yeah, SoyHood and the website is going live in a couple weeks as well. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Dude, I really hope you all have a SoyHoodie, because I would totally buy that. 


Leslie Campos: Yeah. [laughing] Wait for the next drop. [laughing] 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Uh. You know, and and Tony, as uh Leslie is describing that, you know, this is a podcast where people can’t see your face, but you’ve got real uh proud big bro vibes um as she’s talking about it. Tell us a little bit about about your perspective on the work and the kind of spaces that you all are creating at the California Endowment to create exactly this kind of um opportunity for folks. 


Tony Iton: Yeah, well, Leslie spoke to it, so well, it just is it’s always so heartening to hear that. That’s what gives me hope and optimism in this work. The um you know, the work that we’re doing is trying to essentially raise the profile of this kind of innovative work that organizations like Leslie’s are doing. Um. You know, California has taken this very seriously. The governor has proposed $4.7 billion dollars for a Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative in California. And you know, what we’re trying to do is help guide the implementation of that initiative. And you spoke to it earlier. The traditional mental health approach is, you know, somebody in a white coat, you know, sitting in a you know, in an office, you know, in a 30 or 60 minute kind of, you know, session where they, you know, presumably dispense some wisdom or insight and help people manage their mental illness through therapy. And I’m not knocking that. That’s absolutely important and necessary, but it’s a model that doesn’t really fit as well for young people. And what we’ve discovered from listening to young people and looking at innovative models across the state is that the peer to peer models seem to be more effective for young people. They really do uh benefit from having somebody who is similarly situated culturally, you know, understands them, maybe even identifies with the same culture or ethnicity, um has been through the same kind of experiences that young people are going through, understands social media, understands our education system, understands the economics of being a young people in this day and age. And and so we’re trying to showcase those kinds of models across the state so that a significant amount of this investment that the state of California is making will go to building out infrastructure for peer to peer um mental health work in California, in schools, in communities, and even in uh clinical settings. So so this is a, a very, very fundamental aspect of this work. De-medicalizing um behavioral health care is absolutely critical. Destigmatizing behavioral health care in general is huge, particularly for communities of color and in non-English speaking communities and and working to bring the the care at the right place at the right time. And so if kids spend a lot of time in school and they spend a lot of time in community and these are the settings in which they need these kinds of resources available to them when they either are having crisis or when they’re having, you know, an issue that’s, you know, flaring for them. They can’t wait three weeks to go see some therapist in an office. They need to be able to deal with these things early. And the evidence suggests more effectively when we have a trained peer in the right setting in which they feel trust in that human connection. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, we really, really appreciate both of you creating that space. Our guests today were Leslie Campos. She’s the founder of SoyHood and an organizer with Biz Stoop and Dr. Tony Iton, senior vice president for programs and partnerships at the California Endowment. Really, really appreciate you both um coming on, sharing your perspectives on such a critical issue and for joining us for today’s show. 


Tony Iton: Thank you for having us. It’s been a pleasure. 


Leslie Campos: Thank you so much. This was really beautiful. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: As usual. Here’s what I’m watching right now. According to reporting from The New York Times and others, Dr. Mandy Cohen is set to be America’s 20th CDC director. Dr. Cohen would be a strong appointment. She’s a general internist by training and comes to the role with government experience in several different agencies. She served in multiple roles at the departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs during the Obama administration, as well as a stint as health secretary in North Carolina under a Republican governor through the pandemic. Government is well, it’s a beast, and the CDC director has to be able to manage both the fast moving politics at the top and the slow moving bureaucracies at the bottom at the same time. Without experience, that job can prove exceedingly challenging. And that’s exactly what vexed outgoing director Dr. Rochelle Walensky as she attempted to navigate the COVID pandemic. That said, Walensky was asked to walk into a nearly impossible circumstance, a pandemic raging, public trust at an all time low. And I credit anyone willing to serve the public in those kinds of circumstances. And all of us owe her a debt of gratitude. Mistakes and all. Cohen’s role though, will look a lot different. Her job is to help shepherd the CDC into what it was always supposed to be. A nimble, agile, dynamic organization designed to meet the moment in the midst of a public health crisis rather than the lumbering pseudo academic agency it’s become. She’s got her work cut out for her, but if history is any tell, I think she’s up to it. In other government news: 


[clip of unspecified news reporter] President Biden signed legislation lifting the nation’s debt ceiling. The president’s signature on the bipartisan debt deal came with just two days to spare before an unprecedented default. 


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s great news if you well care about the economy not falling into freefall. But it did come with some significant cuts to things anyone listening to this podcast should care about. First, here’s the could have been way worse part. The original Republican bill would have imposed serious work requirements on Medicaid. That would have definitely stolen health care for millions of Americans caught in a quagmire between working to have health care and having health enough to work. It also could have robbed more funding from critical, future focused things like next generation vaccines, long COVID research and efforts to shore up our broken pharmaceutical supply chain, which fortunately it did not go after. But here’s the bad part. It takes about $10 billion dollars away from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, literally taking away from pandemic preparedness, which you might think we’d want to invest in given what we just went through. The CDC will also face about a $1.5 billion dollar cut. It also cuts about $3 trillion dollars over the next ten years in domestic discretionary spending. That includes the budgets of the National Institutes of Health, America’s biomedical research engine, the CDC and the FDA. So, yeah, no, that’s not great. It also cuts funding for critical housing and education programs. If you’re a regular listener, you’ve definitely heard me talk about the, quote, “social determinants of health.” Those are things like, well, housing and education. And make no mistake. While we don’t usually count those against national health spending, that’s a failure in how we account. These cuts will reverberate through our society in ways that make people sick, especially folks who’ve been marginalized by public policy like this throughout our history. Low income Black and Brown folks in particular. Finally, a new CDC report found that 40% of foodborne illness outbreaks at restaurants begin with sick workers. I want you to think about what that means. First, that sign that requires people to wash their hands is there for a reason. But more broadly, it speaks to the way we do labor policy in this country. Remember [laugh] the social determinants of health? Well, sick people shouldn’t have to go to work. But in this country where low wage workers so often lack paid sick leave, they do. And when they have to go to work handling our food, well, guess what happens? It’s another reminder that health is a lot bigger than health care. That’s it for today. On your way out, don’t forget to rate and review. Guys, look, I tell you this every week, but not all of you rate and review, so please, please do that. It goes a long way. Also, if you love the show and want to rep us, I hope you’ll drop by the Crooked store for some America Dissected merch. [music break] America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher, our associate producers are Tara Terpstra and Emma Illick-Frank. Vasilis Fotopoulos mixes and masters the Show. Production support from Ari Schwarz. Our theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Leo Duran, Sarah Geismer, Michael Martinez and me. Dr. Abdul, also your host. Thanks for listening. [music break] This show is for general information and entertainment purposes only. It’s not intended to provide specific health care or medical advice and should not be construed as providing health care or medical advice. Please consult your physician with any questions related to your own health. The views expressed in this podcast reflect those of the hosts and his guests and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Wayne County, Michigan, or its Department of Health, Human and Veterans Services.