Support systems for Nevada County teens go virtual during pandemic
Resources for help
For information on how to access Thursday’s Teen Town Hall, go to www.yubanet.com/regional/teen-town-hall-on-june-4-the-kids-are-alright
What’s Up Wellness: http://www.whatsupwellness.com
Local LGBTQ teen support group: http://www.whatsupwellness.com/uploads/2/8/1/1/28114213/pflag_support_groups_virtual_flyer.jpg
Sierra Therapy Center: Teen support group www.sierratherapycenter.com
Xylem Day, Teen Leadership: youth activist support, teen groups, Instagram: @TLC4Teens
Nevada County Behavioral Health: 530-470-2736
24-hour crisis line: 530-265-5811
The title of today’s virtual town hall on the topic of how teens are coping during the pandemic, The Kids Are Alright?, says it all.
Physically isolated from classmates, and friends, for several months, what has been the impact of the COVID-19 quarantine on teens’ mental health?
Perhaps not surprisingly, how Nevada County’s teens are dealing with the stay-at-home orders in place since mid-March depends on what was a mental health issue beforehand.
“I know for some kids, their stressors have gone down, they’re home with parents,” said Cindy Morgan, program manager for Nevada County Children’s Behavioral Health. “If the stressors were school or peer relationships — if those were the causes, they are significantly less stressed. The kids that had more stress around family relationships or isolation, their stresses have gone up and we are seeing a greater need for support there.”
Lynn Skrukrud, cofounder and director of operations for NEO, said the teens who already were plugged into a strong social network like the New Events & Opportunities youth center seem to be handling the stress better.
“Our regulars, they’re actually doing relatively well,” Skrukrud said. “But others who don’t have that support system are really struggling.”
Even before the pandemic, Skrukrud said, her organization was seeing a lot of young people having a hard time being isolated.
“One of our goals is to reduce teen isolation, and now (teens are) facing it in a way no one could have imagined,” she said. “Young people … already had a feeling of disconnect that had been growing. We have seen heightened social anxiety over the last 10 years, being nervous to go out and interact with other people.”
That cultural change from connecting in person to connecting via texting or social media platforms had been both a blessing and a challenge, Skrukrud said, adding, “During this time, we are grateful for those tools.”
NEO is using tools like Zoom to provide virtual activities like weekly hangouts and workshops, one of which just wrapped up with a virtual open mic. NEO’s “Coffee and Philosophy” monthly event just featured a discussion on the pandemic and how it’s impacting teens.
“We maintain contact with about 50 regulars on a weekly basis, checking in and making sure they’re doing OK,” Skrukrud said.
A counseling intern is working with teens who need more support by finding them the connections and resources they need, Skrukrud said.
“We welcome all youths to reach out to us,” she said. “We’ll be the best support system we can be for them. If you need help or support, reach out and we will be there. …There are a lot of resources in the community, that’s one good thing, more now than there has been in the past. The schools also have been going out of their way to support youths during this time.”
PLUGGING INTO THE SUPPORT NETWORK
“It’s really important right now for teens to feel connected, whether that’s maintaining contact with their friend group or activities that bring them a sense of connection and belonging,” said Toby Guevin, a health education coordinator with Nevada County Public Health. “The COVID-19 pandemic creates some challenges in making those connections, but keeping in touch with friends by phone, text, FaceTime, Zoom and other creative ways is important.”
The resources available include school mental health checkups, virtual counseling sessions and collaborative efforts designed to plug teens into services.
The county manages mental health services for children who are on MediCal, who have more severe mental health needs. But if someone calls with a need who doesn’t fit those criteria, Morgan said, they will be connected to services in the community.
“We meet with our partners at Child Welfare and Probation and the schools on a weekly basis, on what needs they’re seeing and brainstorm on how to reach families that might have more difficulty engaging in services,” Morgan said. “We want to do whatever we can to help them access services, if families have barriers to reaching out on their own.
What’s Up? Wellness Checkups are emotional health teen screenings offered at area high schools, and are sponsored by the Nevada County Behavioral Health Department, Nevada Joint Union High School District Student Assistance Program, Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District and Forest Charter. The checkups include a computerized questionnaire and a follow-up interview with What’s Up? staff to provide support, and if needed, referrals for further help.
Those checkups now have moved online and students are being screened into the summer, said Assistant Director Jen Rhi Winders.
Online Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings are being planned for a peer-to-peer program set to start in the fall, Winders said. And, she said, the program is working with a group of teens starting an Instagram teen page with resources and expressions call-outs, as way to help support others.
“They are trying to share that with as many area teens as possible,” she said.
Sierra Burton of Sierra Family Therapy, who also runs a nonprofit counseling center, has set up virtual teen support groups via Zoom.
“I have actually found for teens who deal with social anxiety, it is a little bit less intimidating,” Burton said. “I have a significant amount of kids who struggle with social anxiety, so Zoom is a nice alternative to going to a group with other teens. There is so much fear of judgment from others, (it’s helpful) if you can be in the comfort of your own home, in your own room with the door shut.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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