May is mental health awareness month—and now, more than ever, youth are in need of care. Nationally, rates of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed in adolescents due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Medical professionals have deemed it a crisis.
One in five youth have experienced a mental health challenge in last year, and more than a third of high school students reported poor mental health during the last school year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This has led to academic slipping—the average student is four months behind in math and five months behind in reading.
Not to mention, the country's hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed with suicidal youth who await acceptance to inpatient programs that are already overflowing. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mental health-related emergency department visits have increased 24 percent for children ages 5-11 and 31 percent for ages 12-17 in the months of March to October 2020.
This Biden-Harris Administration's American Rescue Plan provides critical financial investment to expand access to mental health services, some of which include more behavioral healthcare workers, a national "988" hotline to call in times of distress and a national certification program for peer specialists.
In our community, peer support—specifically, kids helping kids—has been integral for healing. A national organization, Youth Move National, just opened a chapter in Sarasota-Manatee called Youth Move Suncoast, hosted by the Sarasota-Manatee chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
So far, eight peer specialists who are high school and college students have been trained and are ready to help fellow youth ages 14-29. Five to 20 adolescents show up at each group or activity.
"Our philosophy is if there's youth who want to get involved, enhance connection with others and have a skill they are passionate about and want to share, we make space for them," says NAMI family navigator Sarah Miller. "We always work under the platform of increasing emotional and social wellness."
In addition to weekly support groups online and in-person, like boxing, yoga, gardening and painting, all led by peer specialists, there are also one-on-one session opportunities. Local holistic center Wild Ginger Apothecary has also partnered with Youth Move Suncoast to offer meditation classes.
"All of the events have been meditation-based, including the one we held on May 17 about past life regressions, because we believe it to be one of the most effective ways our guests can reduce stress, anxiety and more," says Wild Ginger's Xianelle Faberlle. "We learn to release emotions, thoughts and things in life that no longer serve us."
While Wild Ginger classes will be put on hold until fall, Miller said many youth in the program felt like these nontraditional Eastern modalities were supportive for their well-being.
"NAMI believes there are multiple pathways to recovery, so when four classes by Wild Ginger were donated to the organization, we couldn't pass it up," Miller explains. "We are open to partnering with any organization that would like to help enhance mental health support and wellness for youth and young adults."
If you are a high school or college student interested in becoming a peer support specialist, you can apply through Youth Move National. Vanessa Miller, who studies psychology, and Katie Booth, who studies behavioral health care and gender studies, both participate in the program and specialize in harm reduction and advocating for youth. If higher care is needed for a program attendee, they'll help recommend therapists and outpatient or inpatient programs.
This month, Youth Move Suncoast hosted an event at Boys & Girls Club for mental health on May 7. Upcoming events include virtual open mic Monday on May 23 at 7 p.m., a Mental Health awareness Night with the Marauders Baseball on Friday, May 27 at 5:30 p.m. and a Young Adult support group on Thursday, June 2 at 3 p.m. For a list of upcoming events, click here.
NAMI Sarasota-Manatee is located at 2911 Fruitville Rd., Sarasota. For more information, click here, call (941) 376-0206 or email Sarah Miller at [email protected]. Follow Youth Move Suncoast on Instagram @YMSUNCOAST, TikTok and Facebook.