The KeepIt360 Club, co-sponsored by the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria (SAPCA) and the Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy (ACAP), was awarded a mini-grant by the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia (SPAN) for activities that focus on helping students learn about mental health and self-care.
A weekly after-school club at T.C. Williams High School, KeepIt360 provides teens with opportunities to engage their peers in open and honest conversations about issues that impact the Alexandria community and the opportunity to plan and participate in events, outreach and campaigns around initiatives spearheaded by ACAP and SAPCA, coalitions that focus on strengthening youth-adult partnerships to impact the community regarding issues like substance use, sexual and reproductive health and mental health.
“Young people can be a powerful, driving force behind this kind of positive culture change,” said Noraine Buttar, the City of Alexandria Youth Development Team Leader who serves as Alexandria’s representative on SPAN’s Advisory Board. “One component of effective Youth Development Programs, which the KeepIt360 club employs, is a focus on youth-adult partnerships. These partnerships take place when youth and adults plan, learn and work together, sharing equally in the decision-making process.”
Throughout February 2020, students participated in a variety of activities during club meetings focusing on mental health and self-care. They were encouraged to share their views about knowledge and attitude statements pertaining to mental health and listened to a guest speaker dispel myths and provide information about how to access resources at school and in the community. Students also made their own personalized self-care plans before creating self-care kits.
“By participating in these activities, club members gained information about signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression and were able to learn healthy ways to manage stress,” said Emma Beall, who coordinates SAPCA and co-facilitates club meetings. “It was truly a joy to see the excitement among students as they created self-care kits tailored to their interests.”
One in five people in the U.S. experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. A recent survey of Alexandria City Public School students in grades 8, 10 and 12, found that 17 percent of students surveyed reported that they were sad or depressed all or most of the month before the survey was delivered. In addition, 8 percent of the students reported that they had tried to kill themselves at least once.
Mental health disorders are common and recovery is possible through effective treatment options. Yet, because of the stigma associated with mental illness, people are often reluctant to admit that they, or someone they care about, have a mental health problem, fearing the disapproval, misunderstanding and discrimination that could result from such a diagnosis. This stigma keeps people from seeking help, especially at the early onset of illness, when treatment can be most effective.
SPAN also awarded a mini-grant to Capital Youth Empowerment Program (CYEP), a nonprofit committed to providing targeted communities with unique parenting classes and programming that address fatherhood and teen HIV/AIDS and pregnancy prevention. CYEP delivered the Signs of Suicide (SOS) Prevention Program to youth at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center and the Alexandria Seaport Foundation with the goal of decreasing suicide and suicide attempts by increasing student knowledge and adaptive attitudes about depression, encouraging personal help-seeking and help-seeking on behalf of a friend, and reducing the stigma of mental illness and acknowledge the importance of seeking help.
Learn more about the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia.
Photo Credit: Art produced by students who received the SPAN mini-grants