Polk County 4-H offers holistic approach for teen mental health support

Close up of hand holding.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the wellbeing and mental health of many Iowans, and this sentiment includes youth in the state. Even before the pandemic 81 percent of youth viewed mental health as a significant issue, and the current crisis has only magnified this, according to a survey conducted last year by the National 4-H Council*. During Mental Health Awareness Month, Polk County 4-H will share information about a variety programs and training which educate on the importance of mental health and wellbeing available through Iowa 4-H and Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach.
“The national survey mentioned that the large majority of youth, 82 percent, wish Americans would speak more openly about mental health. As 4-H professionals, we have the ability to utilize our skills and provide programs to help support this need in our youth,” said Madisen Gaskin, Polk County 4-H County Youth Coordinator at ISU Extension and Outreach in Polk County.
Currently Polk County 4-H offers programs aimed at boosting mindfulness and stress reduction among youth. This includes programs like:

  • Mindful Teen: From Surviving to Thriving in a Busy World: A six-week series designed to foster mindfulness skill development and thoughtful reflection. Teens will engage in six sessions where they’ll learn practical strategies to manage stress, difficult emotions, and help improve overall wellbeing.
  • Family Mindfulness: This four-week series similar to The Mindful Teen, but includes active participation by parents, caregivers, or other caring adults.

In addition to these two series, Polk County 4-H will incorporate more education on mental health and wellbeing strategies and techniques into existing afterschool and summer programs. The end goal is for youth to understand the benefits of mindfulness and to learn to apply mindfulness techniques when needed to help improve their all-around wellbeing, relationships, and academic and/or extracurricular performance.
“We hope that Polk County 4-H is doing its part to normalize the mental health conversation for all ages, especially with teens and young adults by being intentional about the programs we offer and incorporating more mindfulness strategies in all areas,” said Megan Freel, 4-H and Family Life Educator at ISU Extension and Outreach in Polk County.
Upcoming mindfulness programs are financially supported in part by a grant received from the Iowa 4-H Foundation. “We will not only be able to teach teens effective strategies to thrive, but with the support of the Foundation, we’ll be able to provide them books, journals, and practical supplies to help them carry on what they learn.” said Gaskin.
Mindfulness and Mental Health Trainings
In addition to hands-on programs, activities, and lessons conducted by Polk County 4-H staff, they also offer training opportunities, in partnership with Iowa 4-H and ISU Extension and Outreach, for a variety of other mindfulness and mental health programs. Each of these trainings focus on slightly different audiences with their aim remaining the same – to help address the mental health needs of all Iowans.
4-H Mindfulness Programs Facilitator Training: Community partners, educators, adult 4-H volunteers, or anyone that works with youth are eligible to be trained in facilitating the Mindful Teen program. Two upcoming training opportunities are June 10-11, 9:00-11:30 a.m. virtually or in-person September 8 from 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Training topics include:

  • Introduction to mindfulness
  • Supporting research, evidence, and benefits of mindfulness for youth and adults
  • Trauma-sensitive mindfulness
  • Principles for communication, working with adolescents, and resistance
  • Mindful practices
  • Integrating mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs
  • Overview of 4-H Mindful Teen lessons and alignment with Iowa Department of Education Core Standards
  • Sharing of other 4-H mindfulness programs and resources

Youth Mental Health First Aid: 

  • Young adults can experience mental health and addiction challenges. Youth Mental Health First Aid introduces common mental health challenges for youth and reviews typical adolescent development. Participants will learn a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. This is being offered as an online course May 19 and June 17, 2021.

Question. Persuade. Refer.

  • People who take QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help. This 90-minute course is designed for any adult, and available as an online training throughout May and June 2021.

For more information about these and other Polk County 4-H opportunities call (515) 957-5760, follow Polk County 4-H on Facebook (@PolkCountyIA4H) or visit https://www.extension.iastate.edu/polk/4h.
*4-H Youth Mental Health Survey: The National 4-H Council surveyed 1,500 youth between the ages 13-19 to explore teens’ perceptions and experience around mental health. For more information on the survey click here.


About Polk County 4-H
Polk County 4-H through ISU Extension and Outreach in Polk County challenges youth to actively prepare for their future by exploring college and career options and encourages them to build skills that improve their communities today. Through 4-H programming youth build leadership, citizenship, communication, and life skills in youth as well as provide a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. For more information on Polk County 4-H visit www.extension.iastate.edu/polk/4h or to learn more about all the programs offered by Polk County Extension visit www.extension.iastate.edu/polk.
About Polk County Extension
For over 100 years, ISU Extension and Outreach in Polk County has served its residents by connecting them to research and resources developed by Iowa State University. Knowledge and programs offered through the Polk County Extension office have been specifically tailored to represent, enhance and meet the needs of local residents and community. For 2021 ISU Extension and Outreach in Polk County will focus K-12 youth outreach; health, wellbeing, and nutrition; and agriculture and natural resources. ISU Extension and Outreach in Polk County is part of a 99-county campus serving all Iowans to create a strong Iowa.






Additional Resources


Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or visit the website, www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.
COVID Recovery Iowa offers a variety of services to anyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual counselors and consultants provide counseling, family finance consultation, farm financial consultation, referral information and help finding resources for any Iowan seeking personal support. Iowans of all ages may join groups online for activities and learn creative strategies for coping with the effects of the pandemic. COVID Recovery Iowa will announce upcoming programs on the website and via all social media to help Iowans build coping skills, resilience and emotional support. To request support, go to www.COVIDrecoveryiowa.org.

National Alliance on Mental Illness of Central Iowa
 inspires to better the lives for central Iowans affected by mental illness. NAMI works to achieve this goal through support programs, educational outreach, and advocacy on local, state and national levels. Learn more at https://namici.org/about/.

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