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Helping Teens Talk About Mental Heath

Monday, October 7, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amanda Raines, Ohio State University Extension
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Mental health is a hot topic for youth development professionals, and for good reason. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 1 in every 4 American adolescents has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Of all Americans who experience a mental health disorder, 50% experience symptoms by age 14 and 75% by age 24. This is a large population of youth who are living with mental health challenges, and these statistics do not include youth who are going undiagnosed. Stigma surrounding mental health often prevents teens and their parents from seeking proper treatment.  

Give Them a Resource

Our youth need more education about mental health—how to recognize signs and symptoms, how and who to ask for help, and how to apply self-help strategies to improve mental health. Your Thoughts Matter: Navigating Mental Health is a 4-H project book that addresses that need. The project, designed for teens, has four project areas: What Is Mental Health, Mental Health Behaviors and Disorders, Stigma, and Self-Help and Resources.

In each of the project areas, youth complete hands-on activities that encourage understanding, empathy, and connection to other people. Youth create anti-stigma campaigns, interview adults about perceptions of mental health, and identify self-help strategies that build resilience.


Since its release in 2018, more than 500 Ohio 4-H members have enrolled in the project. Their reactions have been outstanding. One youth identified a feeling of isolation as a key problem for teens seeking help, as if they were the only one facing mental health challenges. This teen created a t-shirt campaign for mental health awareness that showed the 1 in 4 statistic on the back. Proceeds went to the local mental health board. She also reported success in helping peers feel less isolated and more open to talking about mental health. Another teen reported an improved relationship with his mother, who has anxiety, because he was better able to empathize and start conversations on mental well-being.

Many teens who complete the project ask, “What’s next?” or say, “I wish there was more.” After hearing this feedback, this fall Ohio 4-H is holding its first 4-H Teen Mental Health Retreat to provide more mental health education to our teens.

For Groups Too

This project book has also been successfully used as a school enrichment project for middle school students. 4-H professionals partnered with health teachers to provide each student with the project book and supplies for completing the project in class. Each activity was completed in one class period with several activities being assigned as homework or group projects. This group environment was successful in helping youth better understand mental health, have constructive conversations on the topic, and create a more supportive environment among peers.

Learn More

Sample pages

Author Interview

Purchase Through OSU

Purchase Through shop4h.org

National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals
701 Exposition Place, Suite 206 | Raleigh, NC 27615 | T: (919) 232-0112 | E: nae4ha@nae4ha.com