teen mental health, Young Ambassador Program

Beaver County’s Young Ambassador Program is making a difference for teen mental health

Photo above, from Beaver County’s Young Ambassador Program event, courtesy of KDKA.

A recent study from the CDC found almost three out of five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021, and one in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide. Depression and anxiety are big problems among teenagers as a whole. In Beaver County, an organization called the “Young Ambassador Program” (YAP) is making a difference in helping young people with awareness and resources for mental health challenges.

Their recent gathering may have looked more like a school dance than a mental health event. But it’s all part of teaching young people tools to help themselves and others — including dancing to relieve stress and anxiety.

“I feel like mental health is a huge issue that we don’t talk about enough that schools need to in my opinion,” says Blackhawk High School junior Daniel Rodenbeck, who attended the YAP event on April 19.

Cosso Benn, a senior at Beaver Falls High School, added this: “I’ve seen a lot of depression and anxiety in my friends, and that’s another reason I joined YAP, just to be able to help better with that and understand it better.”

YAP holds big events like the April 19 event at the Community College of Beaver County dome. YAP was started seven years ago by Beaver County Behavioral Health with only a handful of schools and growing.

”Every school in Beaver County is involved in this initiative,” says Susan Smith, a YAP Coordinator. “What we do is we bring the students together three times a year, and we have really helped them to further develop their mental health toolkit.”

In addition to the county-wide events that happen three times a year, YAP also hosts individual events at schools that they plan year-round. It’s been necessary, as the need for mental health support has increased after the pandemic.

“We have seen an influx in need here in Beaver County and increased need for mental health supports,” says YAP Coordinator Alisia Majors. “We’re seeing a lot of increased anxiety and depression and also a lot of trauma as a result of the pandemic.”

Students say while there’s less of a stigma to saying you have a mental health issue, it’s still not easy.

“I just feel as though our biggest problem as of right now is more that we would rather just take all that in to the point where we could potentially harm ourselves or just like worst case scenarios instead of just going to that one guidance counselor, that one person who could make a difference and change your perspective on how you feel,” says Gabby Simmons, a senior at New Brighton Area High School.

The students are learning that despite the stigma, talking about it is critical.

“I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety a lot, and a lot of my friends have as well, and even family members,” says Western Beaver High School senior Laney Bernard. “So it’s nice to come and learn new techniques to help them.”

Many of the students find YAP events are the best place to talk with someone about their mental health struggles.

“Sometimes it’s hard to go to other people for help, but you know, right here, we get to talk to everyone. Everyone here is a family. We get to be friends and family. That’s all it is,” says Bria Harris, a senior at Beaver Falls High School.

“I could learn about what other people were dealing with and what they helped do and help them cope and help me cope, too,” says South Side Area High School senior Polina Shannon.

Students learn how to help themselves and friends who are struggling through resources from the many people and organizations in the community at the tables at these events, and at the new 988 suicide phone and the text line where people can text Hello to 741741.

Helping often starts with being a friend.

“Even if they try to push you away, always try to be present and talk to that person as much as you can, whether it’s just like a nice compliment or just talking to them when somebody else isn’t,” Benn says.

The Youth Ambassadors Program is now in 20 schools, including all public and private high schools in Beaver County. And it’s expanding to include middle schools, too.

If you know a young person who needs help, visit Kidsburgh’s community mental health resource guide.

See Kristine’s full report on KDKA right here.