Thursday, April 27, 2017

Magnifying The Mind - Teens Raising Awareness about Mental Health

 In Reach's Youth Ambassadors at Parkdale High School in partnership with the Parkdale Student Government Association held an awesome mental health forum. Pictured with presenters and adult facilitators.

“1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.”

On April 26, 2017, IN REACH’s Youth Ambassadors (YA) at Parkdale High School and members of the Student Government Association hosted a Mental Health Forum, Magnifying the Mind, to address teen mental health. The hands-on forum highlighted the warning signs of mental illness; coping mechanisms to handle stress; where teens can seek help; brought awareness to addiction, and how to break the stigma of “mental illness.”  

The diverse panel of mental health experts included Chmaika P. Mills, PhD candidate, Clinical Psychology; Audrey Forka, CRNP a Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner; Pamela Little, CEO of Plate of X’pressions, LLC; Rossalyn Martinez, LCSWC and Jessica Prentice, LCSWC; Rosa Lindquist, yoga instructor; Ben Malecki, a youth advocate at Parkdale High School, and Tobacco Prevention Ambassadors from Parkdale HS.

Before beginning the program, YAs distributed a pre-forum survey to their peers, where they were asked, “How they would spot someone with a mental illness,” and “What characteristics they would possess?”  182 students responded, below are some of their responses:

  • “It’s not something that you can easily spot there are some people who seem or look perfectly fine which is the outside appearance but on the inside that’s where the problem is.”
  • “I don’t think there is a specific look for people with mental illness.  Some characteristics possible are physical impairments such as twisted mouths, slanted eyes, but people can look totally fine & still have mental illness.”
  • “There are many different signs for all the different illnesses.  Sometimes you may not even spot things at all some could be triggered by words, or sounds while in other’s you could never know.  They look like all of us.”

During the forum, students rotated through several mental health stations, spending 10-12 minutes listening to different professionals speak on their area of expertise and the resources that they provide.  Students learned how anxiety/stress and other mental health problems can negatively impact cognition and academic performance, and the stigma associated with receiving school accommodation.  They also learned basic relaxation techniques; that using art as therapy can relieve anxiety; yoga and meditation relieve stress; and learned ways to give their brain a break when preparing for tests.  

At the end of the forum, students were surveyed and asked if their knowledge about the subject increased as a result of participating in this activity?  Of the student who responded, 32% said yes; 10% said no.

“Yes” responses included: 

  • “I got to learn that those who need help have to speak out to get help because it may get worse if not treated over time.”
  • “Before the health fair, I initially referred mental illness to retardation, autism, etc. But now I know it extends to other things such as depression and others, this really broadened/ opened my mindset.”
  • “It has enlightened me that some people who have a mental disorder are mostly anxious or stressed; and also art and yoga helps to relieve stress.”

The Youth Ambassadors is a school-based college access with a service learning heart program. The program engages high school students in a variety of opportunities to become college and career ready lead meaningful service learning projects and build life skills through financial literacy. Learn more at