U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Visits with Chicago Teens in After School Matters to Learn about Local Mental Health Challenges
December 9, 2022
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Visit marks one-year anniversary of national advisory on youth mental health crisis
After School Matters works with Adler University to provide free mental health supports to Chicago teens citywide and destigmatize needing help
CHICAGO—After School Matters®, Chicago’s largest and a leading national provider of after-school and summer programs, welcomed U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy to its Gately Park programming facility on Chicago’s South Side on December 7 to hear from Chicago teens about the state of youth mental health locally.
Dr. Murthy spent the afternoon leading two listening sessions – one with 14 Chicago teens to hear about their experiences, challenges and what is bringing them hope and another with After School Matters program instructors and clinicians from Adler University’s Chicago Campus to learn about their approaches to supporting youth mental health today. Dr. Murthy also visited with teens participating in a visual arts program, where youth were working on artwork inspired by their mental health journey and social justice, and with a culinary arts program.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted an ongoing mental health crisis among young people who were already struggling long before the pandemic,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. “I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about the challenges, approaches, and successes of those who are working in Chicago to help make a difference on the ground. Thank you to the young people, instructors, and clinicians at After School Matters and Adler University for the wonderful visit and many meaningful discussions, which will stay with me for a long time.”
Last year, Dr. Murthy released a Surgeon General Advisory on the youth mental health crisis affecting children and adolescents nationwide. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it was clear it had serious implications for the mental health and wellbeing of millions of young Americans. Adolescents and teens faced new challenges, including social isolation, financial hardship, and food insecurity. These challenges prompted Dr. Murthy to issue the advisory, calling for a swift and comprehensive response to the youth mental health crisis.
As a result of the pandemic, After School Matters adapted its program structure to provide teens with hundreds of safe, remote opportunities for engagement. Seeing and hearing the challenges teens and their families were facing, the organization also expanded its supports to, for the first time, provide free meals, technology for remote programs, and importantly, it partnered with Adler University to provide free access to mental health supports for teens and instructors.
“For more than 30 years, After School Matters has provided enriching experiences after school and during the summer to teens who otherwise would not be able to access them. Our high-quality programs and world-class instructors have always provided a supportive safe haven for our teens. But when the world changed, we knew we needed additional resources to help teens with their mental health and wellbeing,” said After School Matters CEO Mary Ellen Caron. “Adler University answered our call and showed up right away. Through our partnership, hundreds of young people have now been able to access free mental health services through in-program group counseling and free individual counseling sessions.”
Since 2020, the After School Matters – Adler University partnership has provided extensive clinical behavioral health services to teens in After School Matters’ programs throughout Chicago (nearly 9 in 10 of whom are Black or Latinx). The services are made possible by Adler University’s clinical psychology doctoral internship and practicum program. Mental health services are now offered as part of after-school programming, providing a place for care (including telehealth options) and destigmatizing what it means and looks like to receive mental health care. Nearly 1,000 Chicago teens and 200 ASM instructors have participated in these programs so far.
“Our partnership with After School Matters began with crisis work and has extended into prevention and health, strengthening communities and advancing social justice,” said Adler University President Raymond E. Crossman, Ph.D. “Together, we are promoting the mental health of youth, while also educating Adler’s students, who will then serve as the next generation of social justice leaders and mental health practitioners.”
“A key reason this partnership has been so successful is because we’ve worked to our strengths. Teenagers know After School Matters and see us as an organization they trust. Adler University has trained our instructors in trauma-informed care, empowering them to be early responders and identify when an intervention would be supportive,” added Caron. “This partnership is breaking down long-standing barriers to accessing and destigmatizing mental health care.”
According to a recent survey conducted by After School Matters and the American Institutes for Research (AIR), 78 percent of teens felt more hopeful about their future after participating in the program, and 90 percent report a strong sense of belonging in their program. Plus, teens who feel a greater sense of belonging reported significantly lower stress levels.
“I believe that taking care of our mental health is very important, especially because in today’s society it’s stigmatized to the point where it’s seen as wrong to look for help. When in reality, we as people need to look for help sometimes, we need that outlet to let go of things that we cannot control and reassure ourselves that it’s going to be okay,” shared Stacey, 17, participant in After School Matters’ HHW Vocal Arts Touring Ensemble.
Another 2022 teen participant shared, “This program helped me deal with stress, anxiety, and overall helped me better myself and it was so much fun meeting new people.”
For more information, visit www.afterschoolmatters.org.
About After School Matters
After School Matters is a nonprofit organization that provides world-class, after-school, and summer opportunities to Chicago public high school teens to explore their passions and develop their talents while gaining critical skills for work, college, and beyond. After School Matters programs are project-based, led by industry experts, and provide a pathway to progress in skills development and independence. Teens earn a stipend while participating in programs in the arts, communications and leadership, sports, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Over the span of three decades, After School Matters has engaged more than 350,000 teens throughout the city of Chicago. www.afterschoolmatters.org
About Adler University
Adler University educates students to engage the world and create a more just society. Established in 1952, the University continues the pioneering work of Alfred Adler, the first community psychologist, and enrolls more than 1,900 students in academic programs for social change at its Chicago, Vancouver, and Online campuses.
About The U.S. Surgeon General
Appointed by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate in March 2021, Dr. Murthy serves as the “Nation’s Doctor” and is charged with promoting and protecting the nation’s public health. This trip to Chicago highlights one of the Biden administration’s top priorities: safeguarding the mental health of Americans.
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