The second Youth Discussion focusing on anxiety was held behind drawn blinds in the toasty gallery space at the Tompkins Center for History and Culture on February 8th, while hundreds of Ithacans roamed the Commons in search of the best-tasting chili. This youth discussion repeated the program from the first, in an attempt to gather additional youth perspectives. Nine youth were in attendance for this discussion session, two participating for the second time as facilitators. The attendees represented a broad range of ages, from eighth grader to college freshman, and a blend of educational contexts with a pair of homeschooled youth joining the public school (Ithaca High School) and public charter school (New Roots School) youth. Six of the nine youth present were youth of color ( four who were on the planning committee).
In contrast to the last discussion, youth reported anxiety about a broader range of topics. These were not just those related to social interactions (“meeting new people” or “having talks”) or academics (“testing”) – but also about working, and life after graduation from school. There were no reported norms about discussing anxiety with their peers. Many of the youth seemed to have some experience of coping in isolation, reporting avoidance, isolation, and “running away” among their methods of dealing with anxiety. Other discussed coping methods ranged from like “meditation” or physical activity to and stress/emotional eating. There was some reluctant acknowledgement among youth that some of their peers may engage in “alternative,” self-medicating therapies, and a discussion about the relative healthfulness of some of these strategies. There was acknowledgement that substance use is not necessarily just a way to cope with stress, but that youth may use it as a way to socialize. One participant wryly noted that substance use might arguably be healthier than “…eating six pints of ice cream.” When asked how they’d learned to cope with their anxiety, some youth mentioned that they’d learned these from adults (e.g. guidance counselors, teachers, parents), while others said they’d simply improvised and “fallen into” them. A flyer listing local mental health resources published by the Mental Health Association was shared with the participating youth.
Although the prior youth discussion focused on in-school support systems and programs, this second discussion also emphasized community support programs. There was awareness among the youth participating in this discussion group about the various local mentoring programs (e.g. MBKI, BBBS, BAE) that connect youth vertically and horizontally across age groups and some of the local mental health program offerings (Lighthouse, Active Minds). Youth articulated a desire for programs that are: youth-run and build community and social connections between youth; intervene at earlier ages (elementary, middle school). Schools may better support their students by: investing more in mental health resources (guidance counselors and therapists); offering more sensitivity training for teachers and academic staff; promoting the development and implementation of peer support programs in schools; promoting norms that decrease the stigma associated with “mental health”; and offering more courses that build “life skills” (an oversubscribed personal finance class at IHS was mentioned as an example).
The Youth Summit/Discussion series began in with a Design Thinking workshop offered to Cradle to Career affiliates in the summer of 2018 by the Tompkins County Youth Services department. The first youth summit on mental health was held in the spring of 2019, transitioning to a smaller format with deeper, single issue discussion groups held in the Community Cafe style. A youth discussion focused on Climate Change is currently being developed with a date to be determined. If you are interested in joining or supporting the planning group or have any questions, please contact Collective Impact backbone staff at [email protected]