“I think it should be implemented in public schools across the country. It teaches students emotional literacy,” said board member and Tri-Chair, Andrea Pita, at one of our early Youth4Wellness at Yale board meetings in April 2021.
Our youth advisory board, Youth for Wellness at Yale, earned our Be There Certificates as a foundational pillar in our work to promote mental health and prevent substance misuse in our schools and communities. The Be There Certificate is a free online mental health course created by Jack.org in partnership with Born This Way Foundation that is available in English, French, and Spanish and teaches people how to recognize when someone might be struggling, understand their role in supporting that person, and learn how to connect them to the help they need and deserve.
The Be There Certificate’s Golden Rules: Say What You See, Show You Care, Hear Them Out, Know Your Role, and Connect To Help have informed our approach in the development of our digital game focused on preventing suicide in youth who misuse substances.
It was important for our board to learn how to support ourselves and one another before working together to create our digital game. Practicing helping-seeking skills, maintaining boundaries, and considering real-life situations through the Be There Certificate cultivates and maintains a safe and affirming environment to create our game and explore sensitive topics. The Be There Certificate offered a sense of preparedness and increased our confidence in engaging in difficult conversations around mental health, which were central to our work. Furthermore, it solidified our role as youth advocates for mental wellbeing. Over the course of our 18-month term, we continued to highlight the importance of Be There’s Golden Rules with each other, in our digital game, and through our dissemination efforts. Some examples are noted below:
- Say What You See: Board members shared personal stories that were implemented into storylines for relatable and engaging game content. Using human-centered language (i.e., non-judgmental, strength-based descriptions) helped us be mindful about stigmatizing language.
- Show You Care: At the start of each meeting, our board members shared “good news” which included recent accomplishments and personal highlights. Celebrating and acknowledging each other is one way we showed we cared.
- Hear Them Out: The creation of a group charter ensured we acknowledged a variety of perspectives. With this Golden Rule in mind, we established a document outlining how we want to feel in our space, which served as a reference point for conflict resolution.
- Know Your Role: Knowing when to ask for support is critical to our safety. To ensure our safety, we provided the names of two trusted adults should we need additional support given the sensitive nature of our work together.
- Connect to Help: As a part of our dissemination efforts, we included resources to support youth mental health in our newsletter. In our digital game, we ensured our avatar, Andrew, identified several resources for support in his life including family, friends, and licensed professionals.
“It was very interesting to see different points of view, because it puts you in the shoes of people who are actually struggling,” said board member Kayla Cheung. The certification process offered an opportunity for perspective taking. In doing so, it normalized conversations about mental health and encouraged board members to destigmatize help seeking within their own peer networks. These skills were utilized in real life applications.“The Be There Certificate taught me invaluable life skills that every person should know, but very few actually learn. Since completing it, I’ve used my knowledge to reach out to and aid struggling friends in a way that I wouldn’t have been capable of beforehand,” shared board member and Tri-Chair, Cassie Pringle.
At the end of our term together in June 2023, our board proudly co-created a digital game focused on suicide prevention, normalized mental health and substance misuse awareness through our newsletter, and shared our best practices in elevating the voices of young people at several scientific conferences, including American Public Health Association, University of Connecticut’s mHealth Conference, Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Convention, Society of Adolescent Health & Medicine Annual Meeting, Society for Prevention Research Annual Conference, and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Annual Convention. The Be There Certificate laid a foundation for the critical skills necessary to execute this work.