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Cascade Mental Health Care Starts Empowered Youth of Washington Initiative
The Chronicle - 7/2/2020
Jul. 1--Clinicians at Cascade Mental Health Care have started an initiative called Empowered Youth of Washington (EYW) with the goal of promoting awareness about mental health and social and emotional learning among the youth living in Lewis County.
Shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak, clinicians held a few workshops at Centralia High School and the White Pass School District for middle school-aged children. Since in-person workshops haven't been possible, the EYW program created a stronger presence on social media -- using Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, with the username "empoweredyouth_of_wa", to create online communities for Lewis County youth.
The EYW community can be joined on Facebook at www.facebook.com/empoweredyouthofwa.
"We've developed social media platforms, we've reached thousands of people at this point, and we publish information about resources available in Lewis County for youth and articles about mental health wellness and awareness," said Sonya Wohletz, a grant writer at Cascade Mental Health Care and program coordinator for EYW.
The funding for the EYW comes from the Washington State Health Care Authority and their grant program called Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention. Cascade Mental Health Care was awarded $20,000 for two consecutive years. Wohletz said that after the first two years they hope to secure more funding to continue the program and expand it to more school districts.
Using a portion of the funding, Cascade Mental Health Care was able to fund suicide prevention training within the juvenile detention center in Lewis County.
Wohletz said that the benefits of the EYW program and talking with students about mental health are enormous.
"In Lewis County, it's more a rural area and there's kind of a stigma around behavioral health and mental health -- that's something scary for people to talk about or seek treatment or to tell family and friends that they need help, there's a lot of shame around that and it shouldn't be that way," she said.
Wohletz said that in fall, she would like to get students involved in producing some of the content that gets posted to the social media account to give the youth more control over the program.
"There's a lot of things that happen around Lewis County that you don't necessarily hear about unless you're really involved in behavioral health work. Sometimes it's just about getting the word out," she said.
Wohletz said that the more mental health is talked about the less stigma there is around the topic and younger people can realize that they are not alone in how they feel. The EYW aims to provide the youth with resources and mentors to provide support or more information.
"We want kids to know that it's OK to have certain struggles or issues, it's a part of life but if you don't seek help or if you don't talk about it you're just going to bottle that up and it's going to make it worse," said Wohletz. "If you don't have the information then you don't get to empower yourself."
Sheryl Hill and Angelina Bowen are the two clinicians that taught the workshops at Centralia and White Pass Schools before the school closure. Bowen said that although the program was cut short she felt it was beneficial for students. She said she taught the students about mindfulness, having a "wise mind" which is a mix of "emotional mind and logical mind."
At the high school level, Hill said she worked on "empowering students by helping them identify who they want to be" and breaking down the stigma around talking about mental health and asking for help.
"If you empower people with knowledge and understanding there are fewer misunderstandings that lead to the bullying that happens in school and the rumor mill in highs schools which spreads like wildfire on social media," said Hill.
Hill said the program hopes to identify some student "ambassadors" to take on some of the responsibilities of posting on social media and to continue the in-person workshops when students return to school in the fall.
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