Youth Emotional Wellness

Mental health was a topic that came up regularly throughout the listening sessions and surveys. Participants were asked to imagine “health/wellness” categorized in a pie chart and to name the pieces of the pie. At all of the listening sessions, and in the majority of the high school surveys, ‘mental health’ was listed as either the first or second piece to be named.
Others to be named quickly included ‘physical health’ or ‘medical health.’ ‘Spiritual health’ was a common middle ground, and as participants thought deeper, ‘financial health’ and ‘environmental health’ were soon to follow.

Additionally, listening session participants brought up the stigmas around mental health several times. One participant stated that the negative stigmas around mental health are the biggest barrier to healthy living in Toms River. When asked ‘what do you find as the most prevalent health needs in Toms River?’ one high School student responded: “Mental Health. A lot of kids are stressed and I think people just forget about it because it’s not straight up visible.”

Youth Emotional wellness is a critical issue, not only in Toms River, but across the United States. In fact, one in five children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness and an estimated three million adolescents aged 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year based on a 2015 study. This number represented 12.5% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.23 If left untreated, mental disorders can impede all aspects of health, including emotional well-being and social development, leaving young people feeling socially isolated, stigmatized, and unable to optimize their social, vocational, and interpersonal contributions to society.24
Based on the feedback from the high school survey and the mental health and substance abuse landscape in Toms River, the coalition will be focusing on:

(1) Promoting positive youth development through an equitable emotional wellness lens. The coalition will use youth champions to drive participatory activities and a social media campaign aimed at positive youth emotional wellness. According to a Pew survey conducted during 2014 and 2015, 94 percent of teens who go online using a mobile device do so daily. Teens use multiple social platforms. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are the most popular, and 71 percent of teens say they use more than one social media site.25 Social media is a platform that reaches young adults, and by allowing them to create the message and activities surrounding the campaign, it empowers them to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination.

With the goals to promote participation in locally organized positive activities and increase self-referral for mental health services and early interventions, the youth champions also designed activities that will took place at the Ocean County YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day in April 2018.

(2)Promoting positive mental health and early interventions for the youth of Toms River through the training of key community members as instructors of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Mental Health First Aid teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. In a separate training, Youth Mental Health First Aid, the course teaches participants the risk factors and warning signs of a variety of mental health challenges common among adolescents, including anxiety, depression, psychosis, eating disorders, AD/HD, disruptive behavior disorders, and substance use disorder. The coalition will work to train instructors in the community, who can then train targeted resources throughout the community interacting with the youth population.