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United Way of Lancaster County


Report on youth mental health prompts plans for mentorship initiative

(Source: Touchstone Foundation)

Parents in Lancaster County are more likely to say their children suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues than they were before the pandemic.

Young people, meanwhile, say there is a need for adult mentors in local mental health care, as an alternative to therapy or counseling.

Those are two of the main findings of Touchstone Foundation’s Youth Mental Wellness Needs Assessment, released this week.

In response, Touchstone said it is launching a Youth Mentorship Partnership Program to build mentorship capacity in partnership with youth-serving organizations countywide. It plans to issue a request for applications shortly.

Formerly known as the Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation, Touchstone Foundation focuses on youth mental health, providing grants to organizations, financial support for patients in need and clinical fellowships for mental health professionals in training. The new needs assessment is a follow-up to one issued in 2015.

In light of the pandemic and other changes since then, “we thought that it was more than necessary … to reassess the mental health landscape,” Executive Director, Anna Kennedy said. The organization “paused” its behavioral health grant program during the study period, beginning in July 2022. It is now offering “micro-grants” on a rolling basis through the end of 2023.

Touchstone’s findings align with trends seen nationwide. Mental health professionals have been sounding the alarm about a youth mental health crisis, pointing to sharp increases in the number of students reporting persistent anxiety, stress or hopelessness.

They cite a mix of possible reasons, including economic factors, social isolation and increased access to social media and news.

For more information

Touchstone Foundation will host a luncheon next month to discuss its Youth Mental Wellness Needs Assessment.

Representatives will go over the report’s findings and next steps — in particular, the launch of an initiative to train and deploy adult mentors to support local young people.

The event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at the S. Dale High Leadership Center, 1861 William Penn Way, Lancaster. To sign up, click here.

About the assessment

Touchstone’s assessment had two parts: A “listening tour” of youth ages 14 to 26, which convened six focus groups totaling 100 young people; and an online survey of parents and caregivers, which yielded 964 usable responses. (The others were from outside Lancaster County, from households without children, or blank.)

Respondents indicated that the quality and accessibility of physical and mental health care has improved since 2015, Touchstone said. However, parents reported lower wellbeing for their children, with a higher incidence of behavior problems, hearing issues and autism spectrum disorders.

More parents reported their children being subjected to repeated hitting, teasing or lying by their peers. A full 43% said their children were “purposefully excluded” from activities by other children once a month or more.

Many focus group participants reported waiting weeks or months to receive a mental health diagnosis or a referral to a counselor, as well as difficulties in arranging transportation if their parent or guardian was unwilling to drive them. They said it can be difficult to connect with a therapist one-on-one in a clinical setting, or when a therapist doesn’t share their gender identity or sexual orientation.

They said disapproval from parents and peers can be potent deterrent to seeking mental health counseling or referring friends who are struggling. Young men in particular are expected to tough it out, they said. Participants often said they wished they could access services without their parents’ involvement.

Young people’s desire to have approachable, relatable adults in their lives stood out loud and clear, Touchstone said. The Youth Mentorship Partnership will address that need, it said, training adults to be “the trusted, caring safe, consistent presence that youth are requesting.”

Mentors will complete background checks and clearances and undergo trauma-informed training and “Youth Mental Health First Aid.”

“Partnering youth with mentors is an accessible way to set youth up for success, regardless of whether or not their socioeconomic status allows them to afford therapy,” Touchstone said.