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Adolescent Mental Health in Minnesota: Change to Chill


Awareness about mental health issues increases every day.

That’s a positive development, when we consider that not long ago, the entire subject was close to taboo. Stigma around mental health disorders and treatment for mental health disorders kept people from seeking the support they needed.

This environment had a disproportionate effect on adolescents, because many mental health disorders begin to surface during the teen years, and when disorders like depression and anxiety go undiagnosed and untreated, the symptoms can become unmanageable and disrupt daily life.

In some cases, untreated mental health disorders can lead to things no parent wants to think about, like suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

While we are making progress removing stigma and understanding that mental illnesses should be no more stigmatized than physical illnesses – meaning not at all – we still have room for improvement.

Last year in Minnesota, a non-profit healthcare organization – Allina Health – created a program to do just that: further remove stigma and improve treatment for and awareness of the mental health issues facing adolescents.

We’ll tell you about the program in a moment.

First, we’ll offer general statistics on adolescent mental health in the U.S.

Adolescent Mental Health: Facts and Figures

The latest data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) show the following:

  • 21% of youth (12-17) in the U.S. experience a severe mental health disorder at some time in their life.
  • 13% of children (8-13) in the U.S. experience a severe mental health disorder at some time in their life.
  • 50% of all mental health conditions begin by age 14.
  • 11% of youth have a mood disorder.
  • 10% of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder.
  • 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder.
  • Only 50% of children (8-15) with a mental health condition received mental health treatment in the past year.
  • 37% of youth over age 14 with a mental health disorder drop out of school.

Those numbers should raise some eyebrows. The following figures should raise them even higher:

  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for youth in the U.S.
  • 90% of people who commit suicide have an underlying mental illness.

Now, add these statistics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Between 2008 and 2015, emergency room visits for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts increased:

  • 176% for kids age 12-14
  • 103% for adolescents age 15-17
  • 104% for boys age 12-17
  • 139% for girls age 12-17

Those numbers are why – despite the fact we’re making progress – we still need to keep our eye on the ball: the health and well-being of our youth depend on it.

Minnesota Responds

An article in local Minneapolis publication Studio MSP – “How Minnesota is Tackling Teen Mental Health” – discusses a program launched in the 2018-2019 school year designed for teens, with the goal of both raising awareness about mental health issues and offering simple, effective online resources to teach teens how to manage the stress that can lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

The program, called Change to Chill, includes a series of online tutorials, information sheets, fact pages, and conversation starters all geared to help teens develop emotional and psychological resiliency, manage stress, and reduce stigma around adolescent mental health disorders and treatment for adolescent mental health disorders.

Easy-to-access, easy-to-understand, and easy-to-use online modules include, but are not limited to:

  • General Mindfulness:
    • Mindful Walking
    • Mindfulness and Eating
    • Mindful Meditation
  • Life Balance:
  • Yoga:
    • Anxiety reduction
    • Stress reduction
    • Energy improvement
    • Sleep improvement
    • Athletic performance
  • Guided Imagery
    • To improve focus
    • To increase calm and well-being

Allina Health launched nine pilot programs in 2018-2019 and reached over 100,000 students. They plan to expand the program in 2019-2020 to include sixteen more schools. They also plan to implement training for school staff and enhanced initiatives that include parents.

The Next Generation: Increased Awareness for Improved Mental Health

Interviewed by StudioMSP writers Jamie Korf and Sharon S. Kessler, Allina Health Community Health Improvement manager Susan Nygaard observes,

“Teens are under incredible stress these days. Contributing factors include academics, peer pressure, sports, and jobs. Teens are taking on more and more, and the balancing act becomes too much.”

The latest statistics on teen mental illness, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts prove she’s not exaggerating. Clearly, our teens need our support. The Change to Chill program does just that: offers support in a way that’s fun, non-judgmental, and inclusive. Some modules help teens manage stress and/or symptoms of depression and anxiety before they become full-blown mental health disorders, and others work to reduce stigma around mental health issues.

Those are positive steps in exactly the right direction.

Decades of evidence show that the best way to support teens with mental health disorders is treatment. And the best way to get them into treatment is to reduce stigma, raise awareness, and spread the message to all teens who will listen:

Treatment for mental health disorders works.

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