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Youth Wellness Initiative

The Youth Wellness Initiative (YWI), hosted by the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation and funded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, aims to better understand the mental health needs of high school youth across the region. In doing so, this Initiative will also help impact our shared Northwest Michigan Community Development Coalition Scorecard objective focused on improving youth mental health.

Our YWI, coordinated by Dr. Ashley Drake, has involved 14 high school students from across the five-county region as student researchers, including: Isabelle Beuerle, Hannah Hughey, Jürgen Griswold, Payshence Bruce, Bobbie Paalman, Rachel Miller, Patrick Puroll, Lauren Tkach, Eva Lawson, Ella Kirkwood, Ellen Grams, Cynthia McDonnell, Kaleigh Hutchinson, and Lydia Bissonette.

Research Methodology

With guidance from market researcher, Woody Smith of Avenue ISR, students developed an anonymous survey to gather insights from their peers about their experiences with mental health challenges and supports. In total, 530 students from 20 different high schools across the five-county region responded to the youth wellness survey.

Key Research Findings

Following the students’ analysis of the survey results, key research findings included:

  1. High school students in northwest lower Michigan are experiencing significant mental wellness challenges today, including anxiety and depression.
  2. Many students, especially those experiencing anxiety and depression, do not have anyone they would feel comfortable talking to if they were feeling sad, anxious, or hopeless.
  3. Because mental health issues and ways of addressing them are not “normalized,” many students do not know how to address their mental health and are reluctant to seek help when they need it.
  4. Students would feel more comfortable talking to friends and family, rather than teachers and coaches, if they were feeling sad, anxious or hopeless.
  5. Time spent outside in nature helps the vast majority of students to de-stress.
  6. Students in large numbers would use chill out rooms/spaces, opportunities to learn techniques to center and de-stress, more opportunities to talk to counselors or therapists, a school buddy system, and other approaches if they were feeling stressed out, anxious, or down.

Student Recommendations

Based on these findings, YWI student researchers developed a list of 11 recommendations for schools, policymakers, community leaders, and youth-focused organizations to consider. Recommendations are focused within three main categories:

  • Mental health education: School districts should begin mental health education in elementary and middle schools; schools should invite therapists or counselors to teach students specific emotional regulation and organization techniques.
  • Facilitating interactions: Schools should have counselors or therapists come into classrooms; counselors and teachers should make time to connect 1-on-1 with students and have the training to help them with mental health issues; schools should consider school “buddy systems” to connect students.
  • Using safe spaces and nature to alleviate stress: Schools should provide quiet “chill spaces” where students can decompress: teachers should incorporate the outdoors and possibly field trips as much as they can into course curricula.

Full Youth Wellness Report

To access the full Youth Wellness Initiative report, including detailed recommendations from YWI student researchers, please download the PDF here.

Re:Frame of Mind - A YWI Podcast in Partnership with IPR

To amplify their research, YWI students worked with Interlochen Public Radio (IPR) producer, Juliet Hinley to create a podcast series focused on themes from the YWI study. Each of the five episodes features the students are interviewers and local professionals that work with youth across the region as interviewees.

Check out Re:Frame of Mind on IPR, Spotify, or Apple Podcasts today!


Please reach out to us at info@gtrcf.org.