HCN News & Notes

Youth Mental Health Coalition Launches New Awareness Campaign

SPRINGFIELD — On Friday, Feb. 24, the Springfield Youth Mental Health Coalition (YMHC), convened by the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, will host a press conference to announce the launch of “I Am More Than My Mood” (#MTMM), a new mental-health awareness campaign. The press conference will take place at 5:30 p.m. in the Robyn Newhouse Hall at the Community Music School of Springfield, 127 State St., Springfield. The press conference will be followed by a red-carpet presentation of the “I Am More Than My Mood” campaign ads. YMHC youth advisors, Beat the Odds, will present the ads and share the goals of this mental-health awareness campaign.

Presenters will include Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno; Springfield Health Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris; Azell Cavaan on behalf of Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Warwick; City Councilor Zaida Govan; Shabazz Wilson from Behavioral Health Network; Zena Murray, Beat the Odds program leader at the South End Community Center; and Sabrinna Marshall, president of Beat the Odds at Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services.

The goal of the “I Am More Than My Mood” campaign is to normalize healthy conversations about mental health and encourage youth and adults/caregivers in Greater Springfield to discuss stress, anxiety, and depression as common challenges that everyone goes through. The campaign directs the community to morethanmymood.org for resources.

“Mental illness knows no boundaries, no income status,” Caulton-Harris said. “It affects all of us. Just like physical health, it is normal and common to experience struggles when it comes to mental health. It is OK to seek help.

“Socialization is key to mental and emotional health for adolescents,” she added. “The COVID-19 pandemic caused extreme isolation that resulted in limited social and emotional contact with peers, which had a devastating impact on the mental health of our youth, resulting in increased rates of suicide and trauma. This awareness campaign and the work behind it is crucial to reaching our youth and ensuring they know the importance of taking care of their mental health and where to turn when they are struggling.”

Data from the Springfield youth health surveys illustrate the need for expanding and destigmatizing youth mental-health services locally. In 2019, 35% of eighth-grade students reported sustained sadness or hopelessness that impacted their usual activities (31% in 2017, 34% in 2015). This rate was particularly high among students who identified as female (46%) and LGBTQ+ (65%). Another round of surveying is currently underway in Springfield Public Schools.

“With the prevalence of mental-health issues in our society, it would be a misconception to think that youth are immune,” Warwick said. “In fact, research shows that mental-health issues often begin during school-age years. The outstanding work of the Springfield Youth Mental Health Coalition will go a long way in helping to normalize conversations that youth may find difficult to approach. We hope that this campaign empowers youth to understand that they are so much more than their mood and that it is OK to reach out for help. Springfield Public Schools is extremely pleased and grateful for the opportunity the Springfield Youth Mental Health Coalition has provided to help our youth make those brave and powerful steps forward.”

The campaign was developed by Axiom Blue in collaboration with youth advisors from Beat the Odds, the YMHC’s youth-advisory groups that are convened by Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services and the South End Community Center.