With reports rising of mental health issues among youth, Oak Park and River Forest High School is kicking off a Parent University series with partners in its Mental Wellness Collaborative.

The event will be Nov. 13 from 7 p.m. to 9:35 p.m. at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville Ave. All parents of area youth are invited to attend. The Collaboration is a partnership between District 200, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness,) the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation’s Success of All Youth, Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township, Positive Youth Development of Oak Park & River Forest Townships, and River Forest Township.

Kimberly Knake, executive director at NAMI Metro Suburban, says, “We are seeing an increase in youth mental health issues. The Illinois Youth Survey conducted by OPRF High School indicates that youth are reporting increased feelings of hopelessness and sadness as well as increased suicide ideation.” She points to statistics showing the need to address mental health on a community level.

According to the Illinois Youth Survey, at OPRF, 19 percent of sophomores and 17 percent of seniors have seriously considered attempting suicide.   In addition, 38 percent of sophomores and 36 percent of seniors report feeling so sad or hopeless every day for more than two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing usual activities.

Nationally, the statistics are just as sobering. One in five children aged 13 to 18 have or will have a serious mental illness. Twenty percent of youth aged 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition; 11 percent of youth have a mood disorder; 10 percent of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder; and 8 percent of youth have anxiety disorder.

In response to the survey, District 200 developed the Wellness Collaborative with the mission of ensuring that District 200 students, teachers and parents have access to community-based resources and strategies to address positive mental health. The Wellness Collaborative is implementing Parent University to better connect parents with resources and strategies.

Parent University will cover many of the issues facing teens today. During the Nov. 13 event, the first session, from 7 to 7:45 p.m. will offer two options: Finding Balance and Mastering Executive Function. From 7:55 to 8:40 p.m., parents can attend sessions on the Teen Brain or Screens, Phones, & Technology. For the third session from 8:50 to 9:35, parents can choose to attend sessions on the Vaping Epidemic or Helping Your Child Manage Stress.

Knake says the session topics and the format of the evening were inspired by parent survey results. “We began by conducting a survey of students and teachers, but we realized the parent voice was missing. We developed a parent survey with 10 questions, and over 1,300 parents responded. We asked what they were seeing in their students and also what kind of tools they would like.  We asked details about how they wanted to receive this information and how often.”

Knake says youth today are facing a variety of issues. “They are struggling with early onset anxieties, depression and stressors over school, work, and the future. That’s compounded by the use of technology and social media.”

A spring Parent University is also in the works, and Knake reminds parents and students of the availability of Support4you, a mental health resource that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Through the anonymous program, students can text 844-670-5838 and be connected with licensed clinicians.

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