More than 65 Ohio teenagers from more than 55 counties recently participated in Ohio 4-H’s Your Thoughts Matter Virtual SPecial INterest (SPIN) Club. Over the course of six weeks, the club met online to explore mental health topics, such as prevalence and statistics, building resiliency, reducing stress and worry, and breaking stigma. The club used the nationally peer-reviewed 4-H Project Book Your Thoughts Matter: Navigating Mental Health to guide activities and discussion.
Teens participated in several group activities that were adapted for the virtual club format. To learn about misconceptions and stigma, youth chose one of four mental health movies to watch on their own. During the club meeting, youth used breakout rooms to discuss the way mental health was portrayed in the film.
Youth learned about resilience by voting for household items to hit with a hammer, evaluating their level of resilience based on what they looked like before and after. During this meeting, youth voted to smash a bag of chips and were surprised that the bag looked the same before and after being hit with the hammer. The chips inside, however, were reduced to crumbs. The club members discussed how the chip bag could represent how someone struggling with mental health; things look fine on the outside, but inside the person is not well.
The most popular part of the program was the mental health career day, in which professionals in various mental health careers joined the club meeting. Youth were introduced to all the guests and heard about what their job entails. Then the club went into breakout rooms to do small-group interviews with the professionals. Evaluations from the club participants showed that this activity introduced the majority to a new career path they would like to consider. Special thanks to our guest professionals who made mental health career day a success:
- Dr. Dawn Anderson-Butcher, Ohio State professor and Licensed Independent Social Worker
- Dr. Andrea Bjornestad, Extension mental health specialist at South Dakota State
- Ethan Briggs, school services coordinator of Olentangy and Big Walnut Local Schools
- Dr. Courtney Buthbertson, specialist in Human Development and Family Studies at University of Illinois
- Keygan Miller, advocacy associate for The Trevor Project (and Ohio 4-H Alum!)
- Lauren Mills, case manager and daytime crisis worker for Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin counties
- Michelle Price, director of community engagement for the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation
- Dr. Ashlee Warnecke, staff psychologist specializing in trauma and anxiety disorders with the Battle Creek, Michigan VA Hospital
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this SPIN Club had to be conducted virtually, which is new for Ohio 4-H; but there were several positive outcomes that wouldn’t have been possible in-person. Thanks to all meetings being held online, members from three states and 58 Ohio counties were able to fully participate. Professionals from several states and Washington D.C. were able to be a part of the mental health career day without traveling. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the virtual format was connecting youth with other teens who were interested in breaking stigma. One evaluation comment from a 16-year-old participant said, “I wasn’t sure about doing 4-H online, but this club has opened my eyes to the possibilities. I was able to meet so many new friends who are also passionate about mental health! I also think that doing this project as a group was better than if I would have completed it on my own. I really enjoyed this club.”