During the past year, mental health has worsened due to the pandemic and various associated stressors, especially within our youth population. According to a 2021 State of Mental Health in America report, youth between the ages of 11 and 17 have been more likely than any other age group to experience moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression. The report also indicates that 60% of youth with depression do not receive any mental health treatment, even in states with the greatest access.
In Arizona, more than 40% of youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row, enough so that they stopped doing some of their usual activities. Additionally, nearly 16% of Arizona youth – higher than the national average of 13.8% – have had at least one major depressive episode within the past year.
Young people who experience mental health challenges are at risk of using substances if they do not have healthy coping skills to rely upon. This is where school- and community-based prevention programs can help. Youth4Youth, a Glendale-based nonprofit, aims to help Arizona students build leadership skills by empowering them to create proactive solutions to problems in their school and community. Programming helps students learn the necessary skills they need to better manage stressors in their lives, helping them to build resiliency.
The ability to effectively cope with problems is not only critical for mental health, it can also help to prevent the initiation of substance use. Students who participate in Youth4Youth programming learn about the importance of a positive attitude, making healthy lifestyle choices, and more. They build lifelong decision-making skills and become role models and mentors to younger students.
Youth4Youth recently received a grant for more than $80,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona to implement school-based prevention programs and establish a Drug-Free Communities Coalition in Peoria. The funds, which are part of our Mobilize AZ initiative, will support and enhance the nonprofit’s student-driven outreach, which is designed to help prevent substance misuse, deliver opioid response programming, and create trauma-informed school campuses.
Supporting the mental health needs of Arizona youth can help create lasting change in our community. If you or someone you know could benefit from the programming that Youth4Youth offers, call (623) 208-3230 or visit youth4youth.org.
Jessica Yanow is senior manager of Community Health & Advancement for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.