University of Illinois Extension is offering support for struggling youth, providing a safe place to talk about mental health issues with family and friends.
The six-part online series, Your Thoughts Matter, is open to teens. Register before Friday, Oct. 23 at go.illinois.edu/YourThoughtsMatter.
“We need to be advocates for teen mental health and be willing to listen to what they are feeling,” says Susan Sloop, 4-H youth development educator and moderator for the sessions. “Providing youth a safe place to share their emotions and being a source of support can go a long way. Positive adult-youth relationships build resilience and can be a game-changer for many teens who are experiencing adversity and trauma.”
Your Thoughts Matter: Navigating Mental Health was written by Jami Dellifield and Amanda Raines, Ohio State Extension to equip teens with basic understanding of their mental health. COVID-19 has increased that need, exacerbating existing mental health issues and introducing a whole host of new challenges and obstacles for teens to navigate.
“While we understand that teens experienced mental health issues prior to the pandemic, it is important to note the Harris Poll survey was conducted during the COVID pandemic,” says Sloop, which may elevate their anxiety level. “Teens were isolated from friends, navigating virtual learning, and dealing with the loss of milestone events, such as prom and graduation.”
Separation from family and friends during COVID was the greatest stressor for teens, with 61% of the youth indicating they have increased feelings of loneliness and 64% saying COVID will have a lasting impact on their generation’s mental health, Sloop says.
The online platform will allow more youth to participate across the state, though Sloop admits there are also disadvantages to an online-only format. “When you transition from an in-person to a virtual format, you lose the nonverbal communication and the energy you gain from being in a room with others,” Sloop says. “That’s hard to replicate, but youth are already familiar and comfortable with communicating in a virtual world.”
Your Thoughts Matter is structured as a 4-H Special Interest Club, which Sloop says allows youth who are interested in a certain topic to engage in a very concentrated way. Participation is open to any Illinois youth 13 years of age and older. Using the experiential learning model, youth will share, process, generalize, and ultimately apply what they learn in a culminating activity.
The program is free. “We feel that there should be no barrier for any youth to participate, including cost,” she says.
Sloop says many communities have local mental health providers with school outreach and on-site services available. There are some good resources available online, such as National Alliance on Mental Illness in Illinois, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Teen Mental Health.
Sloop cautions the SPIN club is not intended as a resource for those in crisis. “If you feel your teen is in distress or at risk of suicide, please seek help immediately,” says Sloop. “Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or visit their website.