Youths need to express themselves, expert contends

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Dr. Tonya Battle

With nearly nine out of 10 youths reporting a mental health challenge on a regular basis, artwork and other expressive avenues are vital, according to a clinical psychologist.

Dr. Tonya Battle, PsyD, LCPC, founder of Battle Clinical Services in Joliet, said that artistic expression is a profound and essential aspect of the human experience.

“It’s a mirror through which we can see our true selves,” Battle said. “Through various mediums, we can delve into our innermost thoughts and feelings.

“Through this experience, someone may see the art and it may open experiential doors for them. Essentially this experience is infectious and awakening in a positive way.”

Battle, who has more than 15 years’ experience in the treatment of adolescents and young adults with depression, anxiety, trauma and learning disorders, said artistic avenues like The Expressions Challenge are a great opportunity for youths.

The Expressions Challenge by Walgreens encourages high school teens to use their creativity to share how they feel about what is happening in their world, including, but not limited to, the impact of social media, cyber bullying, self-esteem, mental health, gender identity, gun violence, social justice, drug abuse and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Expressions Challenge by Walgreens encourages high school teens to use their creativity to share how they feel about what is happening in their world.

To tackle the issues and provide a platform for teenagers to articulate their feelings through the arts, The Expressions Challenge was created. Starting in Chicago with 300 students and now celebrating its 15th year, having engaged 200,000 students nationwide, the competition allows students to express themselves in four artistic categories: Visual Arts, Media Arts, Spoken Word, and Creative Writing for a chance to win up to $2,000.

Battle said she sees the contest as an excellent platform for teens to participate in a program that is designed around evidence-based therapeutic modality.

“As a clinical psychologist who specializes with children and adolescents, I often utilize expressive art therapy to help face emotions, decrease anxiety, enhance social skills, build confidence, encourage mindfulness, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote personal insight, and aid in the reduction and resolution of conflicts,” Battle said.

The Joliet psychologist said that a 2023 survey revealed that 87 percent of young people in the United States had suffered some mental health problem on a regular basis. She said that 58 percent of respondents said they experienced anxiety. Battle said that more than 16 percent of youths ages 12-17 reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

Battle said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 67 percent of U.S. high school students reported that schoolwork was more difficult, 55 percent experienced emotional abuse in the home, 11 percent experienced physical abuse and 24 percent did not enough food to eat.

She said The Expression Challenge is an excellent platform which has a direct multilevel community impact.

“It brings awareness to mental health which has historically been taboo within the (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities,” Battle said. “It helps teens access and acknowledge emotional material, which is cathartic, and creatively engage and share their own mental health experiences as expressed in art form which requires a deeper level of processing and as a result engage in the healing process.

“It may even open more doors for the teen to begin to dialogue with peers, parents, and mental health professionals, and continue their journey of healing and growth.”

Battle said the variety of contest entries covering topics like school shootings, social injustice and self-image reflects the diverse mental health challenges faced by today’s teenagers.

“This period of time developmentally is very difficult for the teen as this is a period where the teen is going through many changes,” Battle said. “Mental health issues add another layer to an already challenging developmental period. The variety of entries is reflective of the varied layers of experiences facing teens and also an indication of how important it is to have a robust toolkit from which the teen may draw upon.”

For information on entering The Expressions Challenge, go to