Before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the United States and the world, the mental health of America’s youth was a focal point for public health professionals, including those in Chatham County.
But the pandemic – along with the closure of schools, cancellation of graduation ceremonies and other safety measures put into place to keep people safe – brought with it a host of concerns for Chatham County teenagers and their mental health: When will they see their friends again? How do they separate fact from fiction about COVID-19? What happens when they get stressed out, and they’re not at school to receive support from friends and trained mental health professionals?
With this in mind, this fall, the Chatham County Public Health Department is bringing attention and resources to support youth mental health and wellbeing.
According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey — as presented in the 2018 Chatham County Community Assessment — more than 1 in 3 Chatham high school students surveyed said they “felt sad or hopeless every day” for more than two weeks in a row within the past year to the point where “they stopped doing some usual activities.” Nearly 1 in 5 said they had seriously considered attempting suicide and slightly more than 1 in 9 reported actually attempting to take their own lives within the prior 12 months.
It’s in this environment that the pandemic began. This is why the CCPHD has beefed up its resources and upped its efforts to support youth mental health, including creating a new webpage, chathamnc.org/youthmentalhealth, designed to provide resources specifically for youth and young adults during the pandemic.
“This website was an idea of a former PEPSC (Peer Education Program of Siler City) member who recognized the need to connect his fellow students to resources and talk more openly about mental health,” said Anna Stormzand, CCPHD’s Youth Health & Tobacco Initiatives Lead. “We are very grateful to finally have a site entirely devoted to youth mental health resources and are looking for ways to push out this resource to young people through social media and other means.”
The page includes a list of phone numbers to call or text in the midst of a mental health crisis, resources specific to helping young people cope with COVID-19 and more information on how to help teens with their mental health issues.
The webpage is just the first step. Members of PEPSC, a student club focused on health advocacy at Jordan-Matthews High School led by Stormzand, are sponsoring the first ArtSpectives Challenge, a countywide youth mental health challenge this fall. Among the goals: End the stigma.
“Stigma is one of the most crippling things to accompany mental health, particularly among teenagers,” said Zachary Horner, Communications Specialist with CCPHD. “Today’s teenagers have grown up in a social media-influenced world where ‘putting your best foot forward’ at all times is important. But that culture makes issues like anxiety and depression something to be avoided and not talked about. What we want to do is change that culture, to make youth with these issues feel comfortable coming forward and sharing their experiences with a trusted adult or friend and finding help.”
Through the ArtSpectives Challenge, middle and high school students from across the county are encouraged to submit different types of art virtually. All submissions will be judged by community members that work with youth on a regular basis. Winning submissions will be posted on social media. To find more information, including how to enter the challenge, please visit chathamnc.org/youthmentalhealth.
“Youth mental health is so important, especially during a time like this,” said Maggie Thornton, a sophomore at Jordan-Matthews. “It’s hard to be optimistic and positive when you feel so alone. The important thing to know is that you are not alone, that a lot of other people are feeling this way, and that there is help available.”
For more information, visit chathamnc.org/youthmentalhealth for resources specific for youth and young adults, chathamnc.org/mentalhealth for countywide mental health resources for all ages and facebook.com/chathamhealth for the latest from the CCPHD.