When teens have troubling thoughts or are prompted by a peer’s concerning behavior, to educate themselves on mental health they often turn to internet search engine links – many of which are hosted by unreliable sources.
To help combat misinformation, the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth (TLC), a youth suicide prevention program at Rutgers’ University Behavioral Health Care, has launched TLC4Teens (tlc4teens.org), a resource website for children, which includes organizations, hotlines and relevant articles that have been vetted by TLC. Many also are listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.
TLC4Teens links to state and national resources for issues such as grief, suicide prevention, mental health, depression, substance abuse, dating, bullying, anxiety, self-care, underage drinking, sexuality and gender identity. A parent section includes resources on how to understand and handle a child’s grief or emotional or behavioral crises.
“The site was designed to give children easy access to the information they seek online with minimal clicks,” says Maureen Brogan, TLC statewide coordinator. “It also features a video by Olympic Gold medalist Laurie Hernandez, who reminds her fellow teens that seeking help is not a weakness and that they should use the site as a ‘resource to connect to in difficult times.’”
Brogan encourages children as young as elementary school who are using mobile devices to bookmark the site. “Children are being exposed to vicarious traumas on the internet through their smartphones or iPads. They can’t escape this and it shatters their assumptions that the world is a safe place to be – which causes stress,” she explains.
In her outreach with TLC, Brogan is seeing stressors, such as concerns over grades, that usually don’t manifest until high school occur at younger ages. While these children might not have anxiety and depression at a clinical level, the stress can become disruptive to their everyday lives, she says.
“Through education, we can empower students to watch for concerning signs among their peers or siblings and know what to do if a situation arises,” Brogan says. “We want to encourage resiliency so they can get the help they need and say ‘OK, I’ve got this.’”