Promoting the mental wellness of young people: New report provides recommendations and strategies

Policy makers, educators, families and communities must focus on wellness in addition to illness in order to help young people thrive.

Many experts are concerned about the rising cost of mental health care for young people, coupled with a lack of comprehensive approaches that address these issues effectively. According to a new report, the mental health challenges facing young people require changes in policy and practice that shift the focus from treating illness to promoting wellness and flourishing. This includes seeing the connections between mental and physical health rather than treating these as separate spheres of health.

The report which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled Are the Children Well? A Model and Recommendations for Promoting Mental Wellness of the Nation’s Young People, also stresses the importance of moving away from an individualized focus on health and wellbeing. Cultivating caring relationships and developing healthy habits must be addressed at multiple levels and within several spheres of young people’s lives. Examples at multiple levels shared in the report include:

  • Intrapersonal: Helping children learn self-care habits such as getting adequate rest; engaging in exercise to reduce stress and distressing feelings; and having appropriate expectations for oneself. Children and youth (and adults!) also benefit from the practice of mindfulness which includes paying attention to the present moment and observing one’s thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
  • Interpersonal: Helping adults gain positive parenting skills; helping young people learn to resolve conflicts with adults and peers; helping schools and youth workers learn the importance of fostering healthy relationships with young people.
  • Institutional: Helping schools, businesses, youth organizations and other places where young people spend time develop caring, wellness-oriented climates and environments; providing structured educational and recreational opportunities for young people; restricting access to firearms, drugs and alcohol.
  • Community: Fostering widely shared responsibility for developing wellness promoting practices and caring relationships with people as well as stewardship for natural and physical environments.

Michigan State University Extension provides parenting education and resources – as well as efforts to help adults work in partnership with young people to foster social and emotional health and wellbeing and to create healthy, supportive climates. Check out a new initiative called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments for more information.

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