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Mental health resources offer 4-H youth a brighter future

Kids walking

Imagine you’re a 4-H volunteer, leading a group of kids through activities that help them learn new things and have fun.

But you notice something about one of these children.

Maybe this child is withdrawn or not mixing well with the group. Maybe he is super-energetic, to the point of being disruptive. Or maybe she seems unusually anxious: constantly looking for affirmation, unable to join in activities, seemingly paralyzed into inaction.

What do you do?

Promoting good mental health starts by recognizing early warning signs and understanding coping behaviors. And in Oregon, 4-H leaders – active in every county – are important points of contact for children, particularly in rural areas where mental health resources may be scarce. Equipping 4-H staff and volunteers to help children develop resiliency could make a huge impact.

That’s the idea behind Katie and Ray Honerlah’s planned estate gift supporting an emerging initiative in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, in partnership with the Oregon 4-H Youth Development Program. “Much attention is given to the immense problem of mental health treatment, and the lack thereof, in Oregon and around the country,” the couple says. “An organized effort to tackle the issue in a preventive mode is a major need.”

The stakes are high. In fact, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in Oregon, and suicide rates in the state have been 33 percent higher than U.S. rates over the past decade.

Among other tactics, 4-H leaders are starting to receive training in Youth Mental Health First Aid. Part of an international public education program, the course covers anxiety, depression, substance use, eating disorders, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders such as AD/HD, and more. (OSU-Cascades video: What’s in your mental health first aid kit?)

Addressing mental health issues in young people is key to preventing such problems later in life, emphasizes Javier Nieto, dean of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “What you do at an early age will be transformative and have a long-term payout,” he says. “The Honerlahs’ gift will be instrumental as we continue to develop these initiatives. We appreciate tremendously their generosity.”

So how can a 4-H leader promote positive mental health among children? Take, for instance, a child who seems to be constantly worried or afraid.

“We have an activity that focuses on the senses as a way of bringing their thoughts back to the present,” says Lynette Black, a 4-H educator and associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “We have them close their eyes, although some can’t at first because they don’t feel safe. We gradually have them think about what they smell, hear, and feel. It calms them down.”

Such an activity also feels good to the leader, she notes. “It’s great because you worry about these kids. You feel satisfied because you’ve been able to teach them a skill to help them now and in the future.”

In addition to creating the Katie and Ray Honerlah Youth Mental Health Endowment Fund, the couple’s planned gift will create an endowment for Linn County 4-H – where Katie grew up – and provide scholarships for 4-H participants in rural areas who choose OSU for college.

Learn more about how you can make a brighter future with a gift from your will or trust.