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Education

New San Antonio Study On Youth Mental Health Puts Spotlight On Need For Peer Support

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Camille Phillips
Breanna Jimenez, a freshman at East Central High School, shares her thoughts on youth mental health during the Ecumenical Center's Zoom presentation on a study on youth mental health Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.

The Ecumenical Center has released a new study on youth mental health, the first step in an on-going project intended to give young people in San Antonio a greater role in their own care and reduce the need for emergency intervention.

Rebecca Helterbrand of the Ecumenical Center’s Center for Young Minds interviewed 40 pre-teens, teens and young adults to find out what they need most to support their mental health.

“They know what works for them and what doesn't,” Helterbrand said, adding that the goal of the project is to better support youth “before kids ever need that 911 call or that (psychiatric) hospital bed.”

The interviews were conducted between September and November, with 65% of participants self-reporting a decline in their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key study findings include a desire for adults to listen without jumping in to offer advice or judgment, and a preference for support from peers in non-clinical settings.

“Young people need someone that they can talk to that will not discount their feelings, that will have empathy, that centers on listening to the young person and what their needs might be, versus sort of an adult rote response of advice giving or jumping in and adding their own commentary,” Helterbrand said.

The Ecumenical Center outlined the study’s findings in a live stream Thursday, with a panel of clinicians and Breanna Jimenez, one of the young people interviewed for the study.

“Adults often overshadow the opinions and insight of young youth, whether this be because they feel they're more educated or advanced in their years. And through this, so many youths’ voices are dwindled down and they're not heard, which also discourages them from speaking in the future,” said Jimenez, a freshman at East Central High School.

Jimenez said people often assume that young people with mental health concerns fit into one category, for instance, that students with good grades aren’t struggling with mental health.

“I think it's really important that youth are given tools, like maybe from the schools,” Jimenez said. “Tools to learn how to express themselves or how to even know that you're not feeling your best. What are the signs that maybe I'm not doing so good and I need to take care of myself or reach out for help.”

Helterbrand said the study also found that young people need their schools to better support their mental health.

“They also recognize that schools lack resources (to provide that support),” Helterbrand said.

The Ecumenical Center has started a youth council to help shape San Antonio’s mental health services in the future.

“Its youth led, its youth directed. They're designing the work that they want to do,” Helterbrand said. “And it's not token because we're integrating it into the things that we're doing.”