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Creating a safe space for teen mental health and empowering youth to combat stigma

Hillel Academy Stand Together ambassadors during training.

As a growing number of teens experience mental health problems, this February JHF and community partners launched a neighborhood-based initiative in Squirrel Hill to strengthen the youth mental health safety-net. A core component of the initiative is the establishment of a dedicated, stigma-free safe space for teens to gather and access mental health support from clinical staff employing the most innovative methods in engagement. Currently under development, the center looks to several models of integrated teen mental health services for best practice, including headspace, a network of youth mental health centers in Australia, and allcove, a similar model designed by the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The center's staff will include licensed family and adolescent therapists from Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS), offering programs to support mental wellbeing, in addition to both brief interventions and ongoing therapy. A potential space has been identified on Murray Avenue, within a block of JFCS and the JCC on the second and third floors of a building acquired by and adjacent to Friendship Circle.

In October 2019, The Fine Foundation – a long-time and valued partner of JHF in advancing quality healthcare through its support for the Fine Awards and the JHF Patient Safety Fellowship – awarded a grant of $50,000 to support the new center. The grant builds on the Fine Foundation's previous support for JHF's 2018 Youth Mental Health Advocacy Summit, which brought together youth who voiced the need for safe, supportive communities and spaces to promote mental health and well-being.

In other efforts to improve teen mental health, JHF has been working to bring the school-based peer support program Stand Together to the Jewish community. Developed by Allegheny County's Office of Behavioral Health, Stand Together equips middle and high school students to take action against stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders. Students receive anti-stigma training, engage in service learning, and are encouraged to 'stand together' to advocate for education, awareness, and social inclusion.

Currently in 23 public schools (including Pittsburgh Allderdice High School), grant support from the Jewish Women's Foundation enabled Stand Together to train middle and high school students at Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools in November. 

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