Darien's Youth Mental Health Project hoping to change stigmas

The Darien Youth Mental Health Project - Sue Blenke, Pernille Jacobsen, Wendy Ward, Randi Silverman, and Carolyn Bozutto - not pictured Jenny Murphy and Christine Stark
The Darien Youth Mental Health Project — Sue Blenke, Pernille Jacobsen, Wendy Ward, Randi Silverman, and Carolyn Bozutto - not pictured Jenny Murphy and Christine Stark

The Youth Mental Health Project is an organization aimed at changing the stigma around mental health in children and young adults while directly helping them as well.On how the project got started, Director of Business Development, Christine Stark, said, “Wendy Ward, a native of Darien, co-founded the Youth Mental Health Project with Randi Silverman in 2016.”

Driven by their belief in the power of parents helping parents Wendy and Randi founded YMHP because they felt there was a need to build a caring and knowledgeable community around youth mental issues, according to Stark.

The YMHP team is built of Darien female executives who believe that children's mental health is as important as children's physical health.

“Together we empower families and communities to act with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to support the social, emotional, mental, and behavioral health of youth,” Stark said.

CEO Wendy Ward said mental health affects the way a person thinks, feels, relates to others, and behaves. By inspiring open conversations about mental health, The Youth Mental Health Project creates opportunities for communities to promote education, awareness and understanding of how to care for and support the whole child, Ward said.

She continued, “We can't shift perceptions about youth mental health until we all value and approach mental health the same way we do physical health.”

Through mental health literacy, Ward said, we can reduce the number of children who struggle with a diagnosable mental health disorder and improve lifelong outcomes. Mental health doesn’t have to be a difficult topic; The Youth Mental Health Project has the tools to help. 

Ward went on to discuss one of their parent programs, saying, “The Parent Support Network(TM), one of our lead programs, was developed because the YMHP recognized that when it comes to the mental health of our children their parents remain isolated.” 

It can be difficult to find and access proper resources, Ward said, and the project hopes to meet these challenges. The Parent Support Network launches six pilot affiliates this Fall and into the new year, including one in Darien.

“We will empower and equip parents to better understand their children's mental health needs, recognize warning signs when their children are struggling and better advocate and find resources for your children,” she said. 

Ward said if everyone could  understand mental health the same way we understood physical health we could impact the fact that half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% are present by age 24.

“It takes nine years on average from onset to diagnosis; suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10–24,” she said.

Another benefit could be decreasing parents missing work. Ward said when kids can’t go to school, parents often can’t go to work. She said the leading cause of missing work is an ill child. And the stress of that ill child also impacts work performance.

“When adults show up for work but are not mentally present, they do not perform at full capacity. This happens often because of family pressures and stress, which is costly for employers. The Youth Mental Health Project seeks to change these norms,” she said.
Ward said one in five children has a diagnosable mental health condition.  Half of all cases of mental illness begin in childhood, she said..

“As research has consistently proven, early detection and intervention dramatically improve the long-term outlook for anyone with a mental health disorder. In addition, early detection and treatment can prevent an escalation of symptoms and possible co-occurring disorders, which are oftentimes more difficult to treat,” she said.

Ward continued, “Shame, blame, and misunderstanding coupled with fear, however, cultivate deafening silence around youth mental health. Parents are on the front lines of the need for help and The Youth Mental Health Project is making the difference by offering family-friendly literature available for free at http://ymhproject.org/learn-more/#free-materials.   Families cannot seek help for a problem if they do not know it exists.

For more information contact co-founder Wendy Ward at 203-829-5676 or at wendy.ward@ymhproject.org or Business Development Director, Christine Stark at Christine.Stark@ymhproject.org www.ymhproject.org