African American Teens In Denver Support Peers With Live Mental Health Webinar | KUNC

African American Teens In Denver Support Peers With Live Mental Health Webinar

May 27, 2020

Aidan Rambo is visiting his friend, Jasmine Henderson Moore, at her house. The recent high school graduates are sitting outside, talking through their to-do list for an upcoming event.

"We can just do like a Google Slides and share it and we can both just edit it and keep going," Rambo said.

"And then I will do the introduction," Moore said.

Rambo and Moore are part of the Denver Chapter of Jack and Jill of America. It's a national organization for African American mothers and their children, with chapters split into regions. Denver is part the central region and the teens were asked to complete a service project on mental health.

"I think especially within the African American community mental health is such kind of a taboo topic that isn't really brought up as much, or as much as it should be," Rambo said.

Because of that, the Denver chapter is creating a webinar for African American and other high school teens to learn more about issues surrounding mental health. Rambo and Moore are heading up the event.

"I think one of our biggest goals is to have the people that tune in being able to recognize when they're not doing okay in quarantine," Moore said. "Or when people around them, their family members, their friends, are not doing okay and need help.

They are partnering with the Mental Health Center of Denver. Zaneta Evans is the program manager for the center's Healthy Living team and one of the presenters for the webinar. She hopes it will raise awareness.

"Letting them know that they're not alone. We're all impacted by this pandemic," she said. "It's okay however you respond. The biggest thing is recognizing if you need help in being able to have resources or know that those resources are out there."

Teens often look to sports, their social circles and the school atmosphere for support, Zaneta said. But even these platforms are either gone or have shifted due to COVID-19.

"Not being able to have that, it's causing them more to be like in isolation and just feel as if they're alone or they don't have anyone that they can reach out to," she continued.

These are feelings that Moore can relate to. Before the coronavirus, she was busy with school, volleyball and other activities, like Jack and Jill. Now she's at home, all the time.

"I think the biggest struggle is like not being able to do these day-to-day activities," she said. "Just being stuck in one place, seeing the same people, love my family, but seeing people. It kinda feels like every day's the same."

There are usually signs that a teen is struggling, said Evans, like behavioral changes. Maybe they aren't eating, or they stay their room, or have become more emotional.

"When I say more emotional — like a situation is causing them to be more frustrated or they're having outbursts," she said. "Things that are just out of the norm are things to look for."

But there is a stigma around reaching out for mental health treatment, and Evans said that's especially true for African Americans.

"I think it's a history and just how culturally a lot of families are really, like what goes on in this house stays in this house," she said. "Or within the African American community, a lot of people look to their religion or their faith to see them through. So, it's like, you know, just pray about it and it'll be okay."

Rambo has been seeing a therapist for a couple years now.

"I think initially when I first got into therapy, I was at a really, really low and dark point in my life," he said. "I was terrified of going to therapy."

Rambo overcame his reservations and said the experience has been enlightening. He wants to encourage other teens who may be scared to talk to someone.

"This year's probably one of the first times I'm really authentically able to see so much of this beneficial change in myself," he said. "It just makes me really proud of how far I've come since that dark point."

Even though Rambo and Moore created the outreach event, they're also looking forward to learning new tips, especially as they head off to college next year.

"I don't do well with this uncertainty," Moore said. "And that's kind of dawning on me that I don't know what next year is going to look like and how that affects my future."

The Denver Chapter of Jack and Jill is hosting the free, live "Self Care in Quarantine: Teens Taking Control" webinar this Saturday at noon. It will be posted on YouTube afterwards. Moore and Rambo hope the event will inspire teens to talk about mental health.

"We're literally stuck with ourselves," Rambo said. "This can be so monumental and so helpful and impactful to so many people."