Local Teen Mental Health Partners Amplify Youth Voice

This is the second article in a series on the JHF Teen Mental Health Collaborative grantees and their work to provide mental wellness and peer supports to Allegheny County youth during the COVID-19 pandemic, aided by a total $318,000 in emergency grants from JHF. Click here to read the first article in the series.

Gwen’s Girls youth participants recorded a podcast episode on anxiety.

Over the past year, member organizations of the Teen Mental Health Collaborative, convened by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, empowered Allegheny County youth to become advocates for teen mental health, and to communicate their experiences in creative ways. The organizations' programs ranged from youth voice projects to youth ambassador training programs, and they provided outlets of expression during the stressful pandemic.

Steel Smiling's Steel Thriving Youth Program provided a virtual space for Black, high school-aged young people to cope with the combined stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, police brutality, and anti-Black racism. Throughout the program, youth engaged in reflective discussions, role-playing scenarios, and weekly journal prompts related to the following topics: relaxation, anger management, anxiety, conflict resolution, racial trauma, and assertive communication. 

Gwen's Girls teen ambassadors created a podcast, Keeping It Real While We Heal, on the meaning of mental wellness. The youth participants appreciated the space to share and educate their peers about mental health. Their lived experiences with mental health informed the content of the podcast episodes, which are centered around mental health topics relevant to teens, including depression and anxiety. The podcast helped to reduce isolation experienced by youth and promoted accessing mental health information using a peer-to-peer format.

The Homewood Children's Village (HCV) convened small group discussions among their Scholar Project high school students to understand how their mental health was affected throughout the pandemic. HCV staff addressed negative effects on academic success and offered support. HCV also held Youth Listening Sessions as part of out-of-school time programs for high school youth to understand these challenges. In addition, HCV engaged with youth during a Teen Mental Health Day organized by Dr. Khirsten Lanese Scott of the University of Pittsburgh and HYPE Media at the Everyday Café in Homewood in spring 2021. This served as a space for teens to connect with one another in person during the online school year. For post-secondary students, HCV held monthly meetings and discussed the challenges of attending college online, how the pandemic impacted youth not in school and youth's post-secondary planning goals. Additionally, this group met to share ways to reduce stress while preparing for final exams in April.

At the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh, the JCC Second Floor program organized a teen wellness committee that encourages teens to lead efforts to promote wellness in the JCC physical spaces and in the broader community. Teen committee members in 6th through 12th grades developed initiatives focused on wellness experiences that align with their interests. In 2020, the wellness committee led a virtual DIY Self-Care Night that included programming to promote wellness, connection, and fun, including mental health trivia, and making bath bombs and stress balls as craft activities. The 2021 Wellness Committee kicks off in October, and teens can register here

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