By Bob Houghtaling

Stress, anxiety and depression have reached epidemic proportions among our school-aged youth. Many factors are in play when considering the root causes of these concerns. While it goes without saying that supporting young people when they are confronted with these, and other mental health issues, is imperative, building resiliency should also be a major component of any prevention/treatment strategy.

Building resiliency does not mean ignoring a young person’s feeling of distress. It also doesn’t mean exhorting them to “suck it up.” What it should mean is to help provide young people with viable identification and coping skills. It should also mean helping them recognize that support is available and there is no shame in asking for it.

I have recently begun working with some local students and prevention specialists to create a program that would expand a young learner’s skill set in handling stress, anxiety and depression. These skills could also enhance one’s ability to address bullying and negative forms of peer pressure. This initiative attempts to support our school district’s many endeavors to enhance social/emotional competencies for youth.

The program we are working on is called ASAPP and it is a five-step plan intended to empower students to navigate through some mental health issues. ASAPP (an acronym) teaches kids to Assess, seek Support, take Action, Proceed and develop Prevention techniques. Assessing a problem means identifying and acknowledging a concern. Seeking support teaches young people to recognize helpers and feel comfortable in asking for assistance. The action piece points to putting a team, and plan, in play that will lead towards change. Proceeding entails moving forward using these supports – incorporating them into your daily dealings. Finally, an additional “p” for prevention, points to developing skills that will help young people avoid things that will trigger mental health issues. This is not rocket science, but it is a reminder that empowering young people to feel that they have options is essential. This can all happen ASAPP with a little effort.

Already we are working with High School aged students (many from Youth to Youth) to implement ASAPP at our Middle and Elementary schools. An extra benefit of this will be trained youth sharing their experiences on how they handle a myriad of mental health/social stressors. We are also planning a Forum which will be held at the East Greenwich Police Station’s Community Room on May 2nd.

Obviously mental health concerns should be taken seriously. In some instances, counseling and medication are in order. With this in mind it is imperative that we imbue young people with competences that will allow them to address today’s challenges. A little prevention goes a long way. See you soon.

Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program.