The Vernon Coalition, which is working to prevent and reduce youth substance abuse in the community, heard presentations by the Vernon Youth Action Group at the coalition's first virtual meeting on May 13.
Four members of the youth group -- Rylee Smaldone, Kaitlyn Buurman, Lorraine Austin, and Dylan Mann -- talked to around 25 coalition members in recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Kaitlyn said the four students represent a large group of high school students whose mission is to reduce youth substance abuse in their community.
During April, she said, they advocated healthy ways to avoid alcohol abuse, including a virtual pen-pal project for young people who need someone to talk to. In May, they began the campaign #ItsOkayToNotBeOkay, which focuses on those struggling with mental health issues, especially during the trying quarantine era.
Lorraine reviewed the six dimensions of wellness: environmental, emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual, along with strategies to improve wellness. Focusing on these dimensions helps build resilience and enables one to thrive throughout life’s challenges, she said.
Dylan discussed the negative and positive aspects of mental health. For example, he said, exercise improves mental health, while smoking harms mental health through addiction to nicotine.
He said abused children are more likely to develop mental health problems that last into adulthood. He explained how abuse affects all parts of the body, including the brain, and even relationships. Abuse causes chronic stress and gives rise to unexplained physical symptoms, he said. Concrete support of needs, therapy, eating correctly, and adequate housing go a long way in helping treat mental health problems, he said.
Rylee said the Vernon Youth Action Group works to raise awareness of the connection of mental health and substance abuse among peers and inside and outside the community. She reviewed healthy coping mechanisms, like fresh air, physical exercise, and healthy eating, contrasting them to unhealthy coping mechanisms – violent behavior, substance use, abuse, and dependence.
Rylee said the group works to inspire teens, teaching them how to handle stress and take positive risks. They will provide a summer mentoring program for eighth graders to become mentors in their action group, and students may attend the Lindsey Meyer Teen Institute (LMTI), a summer leadership program.
In May, Vernon Youth Action Group began the campaign #ItsOkayToNotBeOkay, which focuses on those struggling with mental health issues, especially during the trying quarantine era.