Importance of Youth Voice in the Prevention of Substance Use Disorder

by Natalie DeLaCruz

Young people today have a unique set of challenges. From navigating a pandemic world to ever-growing social media to facing social justice issues, there is a lot we must deal with. Many of these issues, directly and indirectly, affect prevention and substance use as well! For example, the pandemic has caused a rise in mental health & substance use issues due to people feeling isolated. The need for widespread prevention is more important than ever.

Herren Project believes that prevention work must start at a young age. This is why we have clubs at the elementary, middle, and high school levels! Our clubs use evidence-based activities to create a peer support network for students within their schools. Starting a club at my former high school was how I actually first got involved with Herren Project!

Another awesome program we have is our Youth Ambassadors. Each year, we choose about 15 high school leaders from across the country to serve as an ambassador. Each Youth Ambassador chooses a Passion Project to do, something that spreads our mission in their community. This program empowers young leaders to create and execute a major project themselves and bring awareness to the cause of addiction.

Youth Ambassadors

Finally, we want to share accurate information on platforms young people actually use! To do this, we created a separate youth Instagram called @herrenbeyouth. Be sure to follow! We also started a podcast this past year called The Purple Effect. I host the podcast and try to feature different guests that talk about things we care about. For example, we recently had an episode where a Youth Ambassador and I talked about the struggles that student athletes face regarding their mental health. To listen, search “The Purple Effect” on any major streaming platform and download our episodes.

As Herren Project’s Youth Engagement Specialist, I work hard to ensure that young people’s voices are heard. Herren Project gave me an outlet to share my story publicly for the first time. I am now a vocal advocate for mental health and substance use awareness which has had a positive effect on both me and my community.

Do you want to share your youth voice?

We want to hear from you! Why do you think mental health is important? What issues are people not talking about enough? How do you live a healthy lifestyle? If you want to share your wellness story or talk about something you care about, email with the subject line “Youth Voice.” Include a summary of who you are and what you would want to write about. We will get back to you, and if selected, we will help you create a piece to be featured in this newsletter and on our website!

Natalie DeLaCruz is a student at Northeastern University studying Political Science and Human Services. Previously the President of the Youth Ambassador Board, Natalie has served as the Youth Engagement Specialist since December 2021. Passionate about social activism & justice, Natalie works on the Prevention team for Herren Project.