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Local Youth Participate in Mental Health Discussions


With half of all mental disorders beginning by age 14, it’s imperative that teens learn about mental health. University of Illinois Extension 4-H and Youth Development Program Coordinators from Jo Daviess, Stephenson and Winnebago Counties recently held a six-part online series called “Your Thoughts Matter” for teens ages 13 and older. This virtual program gave youth the opportunity to learn about how to navigate the often-taboo subject of mental health. Beginning February 16 and continuing through March 23, teens spent an hour each week together discussing mental health in a non-judgmental environment with program coordinators acting as adult facilitators.

“It is important to change the culture surrounding the topic of teen mental health and make it okay for youth to talk about,” urges Angela Miller, 4-H and Youth Development Program Coordinator. “Mental health is not just an adult topic. Tackling this issue and removing the stigma that surrounds mental health, is probably the best investment we can give our children and future generations.”

Together, youth learned how to define mental health, how to talk about it with family and friends and how to help themselves and others. Topics included discussing different mental health behaviors and disorders such as anxiety, depression and self-harm as well as examining the tainted ideology of mental health and how to properly seek help.

“For one session, we had a guest speaker, Matt Buckman, a licensed clinical psychologist, led the meeting” explains Becky Gocken, 4-H and Youth Development Program Coordinator. “He related well to the youth and not only did he talk about how to handle the different stresses, but he also went in-depth with his profession and what it’s like to work in mental health. He did a great job.”

“The youth that participated were great with answering questions and sharing their thoughts,” adds Brenda Heimann, 4-H and Youth Development Program Coordinator. “I was actually very surprised at how open they were. The youth were glad to have an outlet to share their feelings, thoughts and attitudes. During one of the sessions we discussed, ‘What could be done to reach youth better?’ And they really opened-up about how sometimes in the school setting it doesn’t feel like there is a ‘go-to’ person to just share what they are going through with no judgement passed. We discussed options and outlets with them during that meeting which I feel, really helped them.”

Looking forward to the future, Gocken, Heimann and Miller are in the early stages of planning another series later this year. “There is a lot of room for growth with this topic,” continues Miller. “I would love to work with area guidance counselors to really get the word out with this next series.”

For more information on University of Illinois Extension 4-H and Youth Development in Jo Daviess County, contact Angela Miller at 815-858-2273 or by email at; in Stephenson County, contact Brenda Heimann at 815-235-4125 or by email at; and in Winnebago County, contact Becky Gocken at 815-986-4357 or by email at

Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in program and employment. If you need reasonable accommodation to participate in programming, contact the program coordinator. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time for meeting your needs.