April 29, 2022

How a Feeling Wheel Helped Klamath Basin Youth Find a Positive "Head Space"

A mental health game night increased engagement in mental health services for adolescent youth

Each year, our Friends of the Children sites across our national network collect annual assessment data from the youth in our program to track progress and to find new ways to improve our work and impact. While looking through the annual assessment data at Friends of the Children – Klamath Basin, their Program Director Crystal Muno found a high volume of adolescent youth in the program reported self-harm and suicidality.

Gaining access to mental health services for youth whom Friends of the Children serves is notoriously difficult in rural areas like Klamath Basin, especially connecting with professionals who are culturally and linguistically competent. There are a limited number of places that take state health care, there are barriers for families without transportation and, of course, there are all the stigmas that follow getting mental health care - so the programming team at Friends – Klamath Basin began to brainstorm ways to help youth directly.

With the guidance of local licensed clinical social workers, the program team created “Head Space” – a mental health game night for adolescent youth. "Head Space” was introduced to the youth as a safe space and an opportunity to have judgement-free conversation. The team hosted three game nights – providing dinner, an activity, and a chance for youth to talk to their Friends, peers, and professionals about their mental health challenges. The approach was structured to build trust over time so the seriousness of the topics could increase each session.

From the first session, youth jumped right in and began asking questions and sharing tips for how they currently cope with life stressors. The youth were introduced to a "feelings wheel" that helped them name their emotions. They learned that when we can name our emotions it often allows us to reduce the burden emotions can create and we can learn to be less reactive overall.

Throughout the sessions, the youth practiced social-emotional skills and delved deeper into why this work is important. They talked about how they had never consciously thought about chewing gum to help them calm down before or how picking the paint off their nails can keep them from rubbing or scratching themselves when anxiety gets too high. Now the youth can name the coping techniques and recognize that it often works for them.

“Head Space” was a resounding success and at the request of the youth they will be bringing it back this month in a new format which will operate without cohorts but will set topics so youth and their Friends can opt in and out as they see fit. Friends – Klamath Basin is a great example of how early intervention can help avoid emerging challenges and avoid crisis with heavy topics like self-harm and suicidality. A mental health game night is a creative and fun way to increase engagement in mental health services and empower the youth in our program to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions and to practice healthy ways to cope with stress.