Our Teens For Life program has provided educational presentations to over 15,000 Alameda County youth since the start of the pandemic in March 2019. Watch the video below to meet Zoey, our Senior Health Educator, and hear Zoey describe how the task of educating youth on mental health and suicide prevention has changed throughout the pandemic. You can also learn more about the program in the question and answer section below.
The Teens for Life Program teaches students as young as 6th grade how to recognize warning signs for depression and suicide in a friend, and what they can do to help. Part of our helping section includes talking about supportive resources, including our crisis and text line. I often get questions about how our lines help people, the counselors who do this work, and confidentiality. I absolutely love answering these questions because it’s an opportunity to build more comfort and confidence for a young person who might reach out to us in the future.
Suicide is a topic that many young people are already aware of, whether that’s from movies, television, social media, or a personal connection. When we talk about it in the classroom, we’re approaching the topic by saying, “Hey, let’s learn more about this stuff you might’ve heard of before so that maybe we can help the people we care about one day.” So suicide prevention education is a way to continue a conversation that’s already happening, and along the way we get to talk about reducing stigma, recognizing warning signs, how to ask directly about suicide, and most of all, how not to handle it all on your own. These are really important, life saving pieces of the conversation that youth might not have access to outside of school. And it’s something they want to learn about, too! Young people care instinctively and they want to help.
Most recently, in our hybrid presentation model, we’ve had students lament that there’s no “part 4” to our 3-part video that ends with a teen connecting his friend to a trusted adult who can help. Students wanted to hear an example of how that conversation with a trusted adult would have gone, too! That’s when it hit me, like wow, we wrote and directed a completely new component of our curriculum that students not only connect with, they want more of! They’re connecting with the content in this new way where they get to imagine themselves in the position of the helper friend, which is so cool.
My favorite moments lately have been when the teacher has me set up on the screen before students enter the room and they get to wave and say hi before the bell rings. I love getting a glimpse of that passing period energy. One morning I took a sip of my coffee and this exchange happened:
Student: Hey!! What flavor is that coffee?
Me: It’s, uh, coffee-flavored.
Student: Wow..that’s so vintage.
I have yet to stop finding this hilarious.
I’ve realized recently that my screen time has a pretty significant correlation with my wellness. Our job as health educators is a mix between presenting and teaching, which uses a lot of energy to connect, emote, and facilitate a room we’ve potentially never been in before. Doing it in front of a screen means we’re doubling our efforts to bridge the virtual gap. Self-care for me during the pandemic means that when I’m done with work, I’m done with screen time.
Oh jeez, so so, so much. To be brief, my team. Community Education is a small but mighty department with some of the most supportive and talented people who I rely on and learn from constantly.