May 09, 2023

Belonging and Community Help Improve Mental Health for Youth

Combatting loneliness and promoting well-being for youth in Friends of the Children's program

As Friends of the Children team members across our network work every day to put children first, we focus on core assets to ensure the social and emotional development of the youth we serve. One these core assets—belonging: I understand who I am, have a place where I feel accepted and know that my contributions count—is key to supporting mental health for youth.

A prominent mental health challenge for young adults is loneliness, and it has profound effects on both mental and physical health. As Mental Health Awareness Month began this May, the Surgeon General shared with the New York Times how to combat loneliness and improve mental health in our country, timely for those we serve as a recent study shows that young adults are nearly twice as likely to be lonely as older adults.

The Surgeon General’s recommendations include work that Friends of the Children focuses on every day with youth and families: creating and nurturing authentic, real connections; actively listening and being available to others; and building lasting, strong relationships. Our Friends—paid, professional mentors—are trained in evidence-based, trauma-informed practices that promote well-being and increase protective factors.

Due to the pandemic and her family’s overall distrust of systems, Sarah* and her siblings no longer attend public school and have limited opportunities to leave home. In addition to being socially isolated, Sarah has experienced symptoms of depression. The Friends of the Children - Klamath Basin clubhouse has become a safe space for Sarah, and her main place of connection with peers, supportive adults and the community. In addition to her time individually with her Friend, Sarah attends a peer-to-peer mental health support night twice a month called “Head Space.” Through her time at the clubhouse, she also has become a leader that younger children in the program look up to. Even when Sarah has a hard day, her mom prioritizes her time with her Friend, recognizing the benefit it has to Sarah’s mental health.

Creating a safe place where young people can be themselves and feel supported by others is just one of the ways that Friends combat loneliness and promote well-being for youth in our program. Our 12+ year, no matter what commitment celebrates the uniqueness of every child while building a community of support that is invested in their success.

*The name of the youth has been changed for privacy