“Support can strengthen mental health of teens” (The Daily Journal)

Bullying, divorce, depression, the loss of a family member, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, sexuality, peer pressure, stress, body image, drinking and smoking are some of the issues teens, including those from Kankakee County, are most likely to seek help for.

What can the community do to better support the mental health of teens?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Pledge for Life Partnership Life Education Center hosted a Meeting of the Minds: Teen Mental Health and Wellness Summit on Thursday [May 2nd] at the Kankakee First Church of the Nazarene. Students from 10 area high schools attended.

The teens learned valuable information and were encouraged to take that information and share it with others.

“Everyone needs a go-to person, someone to talk to,” Life Education Center director Brenda Wetzel said. She encouraged the teens to participate in the #WhoIsMyGoTo challenge by posting a picture with their go-to person, to nominate others to do the same and to tag @K3YAC on Instagram.

“We talk a lot about physical changes and development,” said Kate Ford, therapist at the Helen Wheeler Center. “We don’t talk a lot about mental health, but the tides are changing. How we feel matters.”

“Just because you are sad or anxious does not mean you have a mental health disorder. If you do have a mental health disorder, there is help. Youth are resilient,” said Daphne Bogenschneider, of the Helen Wheeler Center.

Ford also advised teens, “If you see something, say something. Secret keepers don’t help.”

Teens learned about Project Strengthening and Unifying our Network, a new initiative that focuses on promoting healthy social and emotional development and life transitions, as well as facilitating easy access to children’s mental health services in Kankakee County.

The goal of Project SUN is to develop a family-driven system of care that promotes wellness and offers all youth and their families multiple avenues to access a comprehensive, integrated mental health care system that meets the needs of the whole child. This system of care model involves services provided in several Kankakee County community-based systems, including mental health, primary health care, early childhood, schools, courts, faith-based and civic organizations.

During the summit, teens were asked how the community can help teens flourish. Overwhelmingly, the response was developing a teen support group and a hot line.

Project SUN is funded by a $200,000 grant to the Community Foundation of Kankakee River Valley from the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation for the Children’s Mental Health Initiative 2.0.

Other topics during the summit included teen pressures, gender, sexuality and identity, dealing with anxiety and depression, teen misuse of prescription drugs, social media bullying, signs of suicide, yoga and stress reduction tips.

The youth summit was made possible with funding from the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation and funded in part through a state Opioid Response Grant through the Illinois Department of Human Services.