If you’ve been following along with this series, you know that we recently kicked off some systems mapping work for our teen mental and emotional well-being initiative*. We started our work with a framing question to focus our thinking: What forces account for the current state of mental well-being of young people in the United States?

Exploring Forces

The next step was to take a deep dive to explore the forces that are keeping the system unhealthy (inhibitors) as well as the forces that are working to nudge it toward a healthier state (enablers). The key was to write enablers and inhibitors that are currently at work in the system, doing our best to avoid aspirational enablers or enablers that reflect the way we want things to be in the future. We were also encouraged to not hold back – to write down what came to mind.

What Enables the Guiding Star?

An enabler is a significant force in the environment it supports, encourages, or increases the chances that something will happen. An enabler can be a phenomenon, a person, an event, a trend, an norm or belief, or an institution, law, or policy. Some examples of enablers we surfaced: tech / social media, school-based programs, present / available family support, positive social norms.

What Inhibits the Guiding Star?

An inhibitor is a significant force in the environment that prevents something from happening or makes it more difficult. Just as with enablers, an inhibitor can be a phenomenon, a person, an event, a trend, an norm or belief, or an institution, law, or policy. Some examples of inhibitors we surfaced are: poverty or inequality, health care reform policy, pressure, clinical treatment, and toxic stress.

Connect the Causes & Effects

To get a fuller picture of the system as a whole, the next step starts the process of identifying how factors are connected and, most importantly, identifying key patterns of behavior that drive the system. For each enabler and inhibitor we examined the upstream causes and downstream impacts on the system. This step allows us to open the apertures and think holistically about the factors affecting the system. To do this, we used the SAT framework:

  • Structural – Physical / Social environment in which people live
  • Attitudinal – Widely held beliefs, values, norms
  • Transactional – behavior of leaders as they deal with important issues

The analysis reveals the most important factors and relationships that describe how things actually work to produce the characteristics of the system that are represented in the thematic clusters.

This is the start of a months-long process that will help us identify where we might be able to have the most impact in the teen and young adult mental well-being space. Stay tuned for more in this series.

*Note, for the context of this workshop, we’re defining mental well-being as encompassing three components: emotional well-being, social well-being, and psychological well-being (Source: Wikipedia, U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services).


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