Work2BeWell and the future of mental wellness for students

July 29, 2020 Kelby Johnson

Like adults, children are also struggling to stay grounded and navigate the mental and emotional strains of COVID-19. Across the globe, the virus deprived kids of all ages from graduation, the prom, sports and socializing with their friends in a live setting. This new reality is equally as hard on students as it is on adults.

Dr. Robin Henderson, chief executive of Behavioral Health at Providence, in Portland, Oregon, sat down with iHeartRadio host Jojo Wright to explore the challenges kids face during the coronavirus pandemic. Jojo and Dr. Henderson explore topics ranging from the origins of Work2BWell conversation platform to school shooter drills to social injustice. Read on for some of the key insights and solutions proposed by Dr. Henderson or watch the video below.

What is Work2beWell?

The Work2BeWell conversation platform started in LA in 2017 as a venue to enable teens to tell stories of their mental health challenges and histories. Through what grew to become the Talk2BeWell podcast platform based primarily in Oregon, teens tell stories about eating disorders, anxiety and how they’re navigating the new normal ushered in by COVID-19. At its core, Work2BeWell is an educational public health narrative to shine a light on the mental, emotional and social health needs of teens. 

“We sought to help students tell their own story and empower them to be advocates for themselves as they dealt with issues like anxiety and depression. By empowering them, they became advocates for change.” Empowered, student-led advocacy in Oregon became legislative action that excuses kids from school to deal with their feeling and come back refreshed and ready to learn. The formal bill was passed in the summer of 2019.

Students and coping with COVID-19

Beyond the advocacy for students’ mental health rights, Dr. Henderson partnered with teens to do a series of podcasts and Facebook Live events through “Talk2BeWell” to talk about the mental and emotional challenges students are facing during a pandemic. With no school, no spring break, no graduation and no in-person contact with friends, many students are really struggling during this unprecedented time.

The discussion with students started off small, but as the pandemic evolved so did the podcast and Live event series. “People were listening, so we started doing it more and now I bring a different group of teenagers together to talk about not going back to school, virtual school, and their feelings in general,” said Dr. Henderson. This discussion platform has become so popular that Dr. Henderson hosts a weekly session at noon each Wednesday.

These Talk2BeWell sessions are now more than educational, they are becoming a platform for students to discuss real solutions and finding inventive ways to create new kinds of memories.

Black Lives Matter

The death of George Floyd was a wakeup call for many Americans, and students have been at the forefront of pushing for reforms through marches and protests across the nation. Piled onto the mental strains of COVID-19, now kids have to consider the issue of systemic racism…and they’re doing it with eyes wide open. They see it in the school hallways, on the streets and sometimes in their social circles. They’re awake and motivated to find ways to end social injustices.

For the past five weeks, Dr. Henderson and her student guests on Talk2BeWell have had many conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether its small marches, social media activity or conversations with friends, students are finding ways to both get educated and be educated about social injustices. Dr. Henderson recounts a discussion with a group of Asian high school students: “They talked about the racism that they had experienced in their own schools, and their schools’ approaches to that…and what their hopes and aspirations were for their school boards to manage things differently when they return and what it takes to be in a safe environment.”

Both the good doctor and her student guests agreed that the only way real change is going to happen is by voting.

Sex education and mental health

One of the newer initiatives from Work2BeWell is a think tank and empowerment forum to foster collaborative dialogue around mental health concerns, support and solution. Set to go live in 2021, this hub will give students a safe place to be vulnerable and discuss mental wellness topics that others can benefit from. The idea, according to Dr. Henderson, is to scale herself and the Talk2BeWell podcast series and Live events so students (or anyone) across America can talk about any issue under the sun.

Dr. Henderson believes we need to stop treating mental health issues like porn and bring the topics of ADHD, anxiety, and other disorders to where kids spend a lot of their time – in schools. “Think about the early days of sex education, where sex education really got effective when it came to schools; when we started talking about educating kids about their bodies,” she said. “Why couldn’t we use that same successful approach with mental health?”

The vision for the empowerment think tank concept is to make it accessible and easy for schools to use as a medium to allow students to have real conversations about their mental health and general wellness

In the fall of 2020, Work2BeWell programming will scale across Providence and affiliate regions, increasing the reach of virtual teen mental health curriculum and programming adaptable to any high school environment. Visit Work2BeWell to learn more about the amazing ways Dr. Henderson and the team are helping kids open up about issues relating to mental wellness.

About the Author

Kelby has spent the last three-plus years leading the content strategy and editorial programming for Providence. His passion is finding the cultural insights that can be turned into relevant and helpful stories that will connect with people emotionally.

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