Y Teens Participate in Mental Health Ambassadors Retreat

five teenage girls from New RIver YMCA smile for photo

Five students from three high schools Onslow County participated in the Connecting the Dots: Teen Mental Health First Aid Ambassador’s Retreat in Wilmington June 20-22 at UNC-Wilmington as part of the New River YMCA’s work around supporting teen mental health through the Alliance’s grant. 

Because the New River Y in Jacksonville plans to offer the evidence-based Teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) course to teens in its community, these youth were able to attend the retreat and participate in fun team-building activities and explore strategies that promote resilience and well-being while experiencing a college campus environment. 

“I enjoyed the retreat; I was able to meet people and create bonds as well. I also learned new ways to better understand mental health and help others around me,” said Jaden, a rising junior.

tMHFA teaches teens aged 14-18 or grades 9-12 about common mental health challenges, how to be a supportive friend, encouraging friends to seek help and knowing when it’s time to get an adult involved. Among the course values are that mental health challenges are common, friends might be the first to notice challenges or crisis, and teen mental health first aiders don’t diagnose; adults are available to help and support. 

Data shows that more than half of teens who have taken the course recognize a peer experience a challenge or crisis, and 88% of them reported using their tMHFA skills to help a peer, according to Ruby Brown-Herring, MEd, BSW, of RBH Wellness Solutions, and Youth/teen MHFA Project Lead Consultant for the NC Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Behavioral Health Unit. Brown-Herring and her colleagues at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work Behavioral Health Springboard organized the retreat, bringing together 33 teens and 8 adult chaperones from across the state.

"Our inagural event was a success, and we now have 33 ambassadors across the state that will continue to help us reduce the stigma associated with mental health in teens. It was so inspiring watching them engage with each other throughout the event," said Brown-Herring.

Offering the tMHFA course to our Onslow County teens will help destigmatize mental health issues in our community and will provide them with the tools to recognize when their peers may need support. We're working to provide access to resources and remove barriers to support for our teeens," said Lamont Singleton, Senior Program Director for the New River Y.