Local Initiative Launched to Address Youth Mental Health

Blaine County's Youth Mental Health

In an attempt to address the increasing concerns about mental health among young people, a new local initiative has emerged this autumn with a mission.

It is profound to strengthen the ability of the community to handle mental health problems affecting high and middle school students.

Spearheaded by Blaine County School District, St. Luke’s Health System and Communities for Youth working together, the “Youth Behavioral Health Initiative” is based on strategies of prevention through identification and addressing of risk factors in young lives.

The initiative was highlighted by a recently completed “2023 Student Well-Being Survey” with significant participation rates that saw about 70% of students take part in the comprehensive survey.

On December 7th and 8th in Ketchum, Hailey, and Carey, Sarah Seppa, director of community health and engagement at St. Luke’s Wood River indicated that the results of this survey will be presented during a series of community meetings.

These events are designed to enable members of public converge for dialogues on ways to improve youth mental health within their community.

According to Megan Smith who is an associate professor at Boise State University School of Public and Population Health as well as the founding director of Communities for Youth emphasized that the initiative is preventive based.

Smith urged the need to have customized capacity building efforts that are aimed at identifying systems that influence young people’s lives.

Youth mental health was called “the defining public health crisis of our time” by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as he highlighted alarming statistics leading up to this initiative.

For instance, before COVID 19 there was a forty percent increase in persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness; suicidal thoughts; or suicide attempts among young people according to CDC YRBS data from decades prior.

This model borrows extensively from Iceland’s victory over youth substance abuse using what it calls Icelandic Prevention Model since early nineteen nineties moving Iceland from having the highest rate in the European Union to having the lowest.

Seppa added that this model has been adopted by 43 other countries and is based on a preventive framework that identifies resources in communities and gaps where young people struggle.

Of note, Seppa expressed that it was important to know the particular challenges and strengths of our community through collection of local data in order to make prevention strategies tailored accordingly.

Being different from Iceland’s approach which primarily targets substance abuse, the Blaine County initiative takes an all-encompassing stance on well-being including physical, behavioral and mental health for kids and teens.

Insights from a youth panel in May highlighted several concerns including inclusive spaces beyond competitive athletics, affordable food and increased involvement of adults for young people.

Comfortable gathering places were desired by students of economically disadvantaged families who identified economic disparities and high cost of living as stressors for their friends and families.

Senior director for community health and engagement in St. Luke’s Health System and licensed social worker Erin Pfaeffle acknowledged the significance of multiple adults in youths’ lives.

Beyond parents, Pfaeffle underlined how much teachers, coaches, counselors, employers or faith leaders could help young people.

During the upcoming December 7th-8th community meetings we will have an opportunity to engage in crucial talks around adolescent mental health.

For instance, any person who wants to make a difference towards the betterment of the society can attend them regardless of his/her area of expertise or experience according to Sarah Seppa.

The gatherings scheduled for December 7th will take place at Ernest Hemingway STEAM School in Ketchum (3:30-5 pm) and Wood River High School in Hailey (6-7.30 pm). On December 8th, a meeting is set at Carey High School (4-5:30 pm).

Smith emphasized the need to work with members of the community, obtain different perspectives and apply an upstream prevention methodology that will see the coming up with an effective plan that keeps changing for better.

While grappling with daunting statistics on mental health, the campaign aims to remind residents about already accessible support systems as well as programs.

Furthermore, the initiative seeks to foster cooperation and a preventative approach to create a strong action plan towards improving youth mental health.

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