To Support Roaring Fork Valley Youth Mental Health, Organizers Take to the Internet

Savannah Kallas, 15, left, Jaelyn Spraker, 14, and Marybeth Clapper, 14, use their phones as they sit outside Starbucks in Aspen on Thursday, October 22, 2021. The teens attend high school Aspen and said they use Snapchat and Tiktok. as their main social media platforms. (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

This month’s “Time to Talk” mental health support group met in a place it had never met before: the Metaverse.

It’s a virtual world in which the avatars all represent real people coming together on platforms like Decentraland, which hosted the October 13 meeting by showing it on a virtual screen in a virtual movie theater.

It’s a lot online, but the challenges users face offline, like anxiety and depression, are very similar to those they might face in the digital world, said Andy Godfrey, who leads monthly meetings organized through mental health advocacy. Aspen Strong organization.

“One of the questions from one of the avatars was, ‘Why are you doing this? Why did you choose this place? “… I think a lot of these real world problems that we have here will be similar problems in the Metaverse,” Godfrey said. The platform also adds another level of anonymity as participants can choose their usernames and avatars.

Godfrey chose the Metaverse as the new location for the support group in the hopes that it could expand the audience for its usual half-dozen Zoom attendees, and it worked: The reunion brought together 30 unique viewers, a. -he declares. The goal is also to reach a younger audience by meeting teens and young adults where they are: on the internet.

Avatars participate in a “Time to Talk” support group on October 13th hosted by Aspen Strong and hosted on the Decentraland platform, a virtual world where users can interact in digital spaces.
Andy Godfrey / Courtesy Image

This is one of the many initiatives Aspen Strong has started to reach out and provide mental health support to a younger population. The organization helped plan a high school-led yoga series this summer; There’s also a series that will combine activities that could include fly fishing or jewelry making with conversations about mental health and plans to have an ongoing nutrition class, according to Aspen Strong’s executive director. , Angilina Taylor.

But Taylor acknowledges that the activities the organization initiates with young people in mind may not always reach their target audience. This is one of the reasons Aspen Strong is looking to build a council of young mental health advocates who can educate the organization on the types of events and programs that children and young adults will actually engage in. .

“From an adult perspective, we’re like, ‘These are so cool. Oh my God, I wish I had had this when I was young, ”Taylor said. “But when you think back to when you were younger, would you have left, and what made you leave?” … If they don’t show up, what’s the point?

Taylor recognizes that there may be barriers like “accessibility” that stand between young people and resources that could help them overcome mental health issues. Aspen Strong focuses on promoting conversation and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health, but there is a “different dialogue” – and perhaps a different stigma – among teens and young adults.

“Look, I think we’ve come a long way. I think they have a much broader understanding of mental health than we had when we were their age… (but) we still see a lot of people struggling, ”she said.

Reaching all of the young people in this valley and beyond who have mental health issues will not be easy. But for each different avenue, there might be one or two more people who now have more tools and resources to deal with mental health.

“It’s not about the quantity that appears. It’s about the quality (of) interactions we have with the people who come. … Maybe it has a ripple effect, ”Taylor said.

Taylor is not the only one to hope for this “ripple effect”.

The same sentence describes the aspirations of Nikki Beinstein, a Carbondale-based educator who founded “The Serious Type,” a social network-like website for young people aged 13 to 23.

Users – of which there are around 50 as far as Aspen and as far as Karnataka, India – submit writings, videos and other creative work based on categories such as “Arts, Culture and Media” and ” Sustainability and justice ”.

The site itself has evolved from what was originally intended to be a sustainable classroom business project; Once the pandemic hit, Beinstein had to change its plan and also expand the scope beyond its founding premises to cover all topics and a variety of mediums.

Sustainability, in this case, means more than just recycling and renewables or a long-term business plan that remains in the dark. Beinstein said there is also a “human element” driving the ethics behind the site.

“If you don’t deal with people, you know, their views, their opinions, their views, their sanity, you know, how they treat each other, then you can’t really address the environmental issue, “she said. . “We kind of have to go inward.”

The level of intent and purpose cooked in The Serious Type contributes to that introspective and determined atmosphere, suggested Beinstein.

Submissions are pre-arranged by a group of editors to ensure that the works are “polite, appropriate and constructive,” Beinstein said. And unlike Facebook or Instagram, there are no likes, comments, or followers, only views, a forum for authors, and a platform for caring personal expression.

“For me, the mental health aspect sort of goes hand in hand with sustainability (the aspect) and the ability to express oneself fully,” Beinstein said. “And once they can express themselves and connect with each other on a deeper and deeper level, then I believe they can really start to make real changes and make a difference in the world. … It was one of the solutions to help kids find their purpose, finally connect on a deeper level, and then they could really start to change the culture in a truly sustainable way.

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