Who are your mental health role models? By Vanessa Soleil

This May, as we launch into summer, we invite you to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month with all of us at the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Center (CCERC). Rarely is mental health framed as cause to celebrate. However, with our focus on wellness, we see plenty to sing about. Mental health means practicing self-love and acceptance, healthy boundaries and secure relationships, clear communication, and personal growth, among other wonderful things. As the structure of the school year falls away, summer is a time to take special care of ourselves and our emotional needs.

 

In many homes and in popular culture, “mental health” often has negative connotations and is treated as a taboo topic to be avoided. When we hear the phrase “physical health,” there is not the same kind of stigma. Instead, we may imagine working out, strength-building, eating fruits and vegetables, or getting plenty of sleep. We can probably bring to mind role models who help us aspire to greater physical health and who work towards personal excellence in how they treat their bodies: athletes such as Serena Williams, talented Olympians Adam Rippon or Simone Biles, or the body positivity advocate, yoga star and Durham native, Jessamyn Stanley. Our society is more open and positive about physical health than we are about mental health, which is often talked about as an indication of disease, not about the presence of wellness.

 

What if we looked to people in society who are beacons of self-care and self-love? What if we found people who inspire for the way they protect their spirits, speak openly about struggles, and display vulnerability as they move towards growth? Some mental health role models could include rapper Logic, who overcame childhood trauma, debilitating anxiety, depression, and now heals others through music, or Beyoncé, who channeled anger and pain in her relationship into powerful and authentic creative expression. Role models need not only include celebrities, but lesser knowns like YouTuber, Jessica McCabe, who developed a video series about ADHD, Gabby Frost, founder of the Buddy Project, which pairs people up online to offer support and suicide prevention, and Elyse Fox, whose documentary about depression led to the online platform, the Sad Girls Club, that works to build supportive community where folks can talk openly about their emotions, without shame. Who are the people in your life who take care of their thoughts, feelings, and nurture themselves and ask for help when they need it?

 

Part of our mission at CCERC is to promote counseling as something from which all of us can benefit. Mental health care, which refers to behaviors that support our social, emotional, and psychological well-being, is essential to creating a meaningful life amidst the challenges we all face—whether loss, relationship changes, discrimination, or everyday stress. We all benefit from unconditional acceptance and a space to share our experiences without judgement. We all need mental health role models and goals to aspire to, just as we do for our physical health.

 

Thank You!

Hello, parents!

Congratulations!  Your child has finished one more year of their high school experience.  We at InterAct have greatly enjoyed speaking with your children, and are grateful for the opportunity throughout the year.  After having such a busy year full of interesting conversations, here is a quick recap of what we talked about.

  • Bullying – How do we unpack stereotypes, accept differences, and check our personal biases?
  • What’s our kryptonite: Understanding personal strengths and weaknesses in relationships.
  • Create-a-date – What are our personal boundaries, and how do we respect them in our relationships?
  • Love language – What’s your love language?
  • Teen Dating Violence – What does abuse look like?
  • Being safe and respectful using social media
  • What is sexual harassment, and how is it different from flirting?
  • Sexual assault – Understanding consent

We would like to thank you for the opportunity to work together and shine a light on topics that can be very hard to discuss.  This type of work requires strength, honesty, and vulnerability, all of which your children have shown.  You should be proud.  Still, we ask you to continue having these conversations with your kids.  There is always more to learn about ourselves, each other, and how we can best interact with those around us.  We urge you to continue having these sorts of conversations, and continue pushing for happy, healthy, loving relationships.

As always, if you have any questions about any of the topics presented above or would like to ask us questions directly, please feel free to contact us at interactyouthservices@gmail.com or call at (919) 828-7501.

Thank you, once again.

Having Hard Conversations With Teenagers

Having hard conversations with your teenagers by Dave Hughes

With the recent school violence in Parkland, Florida, we’re faced with yet another reminder that today’s youth struggle with very difficult social realities. It can be hard to even talk about such awful events. So, how can parents go about having these important conversations with their teens?

Create a healthy environment for communication:

Your own self-care

            It is really valuable for you to model how to take care of yourself when an upsetting event occurs. When we acknowledge that the toll of being exposed to such horrific acts of violence affects us as well, it can open the door for deeper, more authentic conversations with our teens. Going for walks, spending time in nature, and engaging in prayer or meditation are just some examples of self-care.

Don’t assume silence = everything is ok

One mistake that a lot of us make is thinking a lack of communication is equal to a lack of need for communication. It’s easy to fall into the old ‘no news is good news’ trap, as we ignore opportunities to have important conversations. Just because your teen isn’t talking about it with you does not mean that they are not thinking about it.

Get out of the echo chamber

We live in an era of 24-hour news coverage. The problem with this is how much of our thought life and emotional life these events begin to consume.  It’s as though it’s happening all over every day. Setting some boundaries with your screen time can help.  Whether it’s putting your phone away after a certain hour or during dinner, healthy boundaries with the information coming at you will help you regulate your emotional space better. You can model this for teenagers and help them understand that it is healthy to take a break from screens.

Routine and self-care rituals

Research has shown that after a traumatic event, especially for youth, re-entering the safety and predictability of routine can help speed the recovery process along.  For people of all ages, orienting ourselves to our social world through routine and self-care activities creates resilience and helps us recover faster. Participating in activities with our community and healing with them is very important after exposure to a trauma.

You don’t have to be perfect

You don’t have to know the right things to say. Sometimes, just listening to how your teen feels is the best thing that you can do.

Here are some tips for good listening:

  • Empathy: When we strive to see things from someone else’s perspective and stay present with them, we communicate something far more impactful than if we simply try to ‘fix the problem’.
  • Timing: Know your family’s rhythms. Do serious conversations happen best over the dinner table, around bedtime, or in the morning before school?Knowing when’s a good time to talk goes long way. Also, it’s okay if your teen is not ready to talk when you ask them about how they feel. Your question lets them know that you’re interested.  They may come to you later that evening or the next day when they feel ready to talk.
  • Authenticity: By owning the fact that we don’t have all the answers, we create space for others to be OK with not having them either.

April Is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Hello, parents and guardians!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)!  While recent media coverage has created a newfound focus on sexual assault, such as the #MeToo movement and corresponding corporate fallout, talking about sexual assault is still often viewed as taboo.  Yet, statistics show that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime.  Sadly, these rates increase for adolescents and young adults.  To mitigate perpetration and ensure students’ well being, we at InterAct will lead a conversation regarding sexual assault, consent, communication, and healthy boundaries this month at the WELL.

Sexual assault is a broadly categorized as when one person forces another to do something sexual that they do not want to do.  Perpetration can occur through physical, verbal, or emotional coercion.  Due to the prevalence of boundary-pushing, it can be hard for people to acknowledge the possibility that they experienced sexual assault.  By defining sexual assault, discussing active consent, boundaries, respect, and empathy, we hope to give your children the vocabulary and background knowledge to unpack sexual assault and promote healthy, respectful partnerships.

Much of what we are taught by society about ourselves, about consent, and about respect cannot be undone in one conversation.  We urge you to consider talking about sexual assault, consent, and boundaries with your children outside of school.  Check in with them to see if they or their peers are dealing with this, create an open space for conversation with them outside of the walls of the WELL.

Analyzing and unpacking consent and sexual assault can be difficult, triggering, and sometimes traumatic.  While we at InterAct hope to foster an open, safe space to ensure that students’ feel comfortable during our discussion, they may feel a need for more support after our session together.  For resources and support, we recommend the following organizations:

  • Love is Respect (loveisrespect.org)
  • Break the Cycle (breakthecycle.org)
  • RAINN (Rain.org)

This will be our last meeting of the academic year, and we thank you for your support and trust.  As always, if you have any questions about any of the topics presented above or would like to ask us questions directly, please feel free to contact us at youthservices@interactofwake.org or call at (919) 828-7501.

Social Media Etiquette

Hello, parents!

This month, we are going to be speaking with your children about social media etiquette and the differences between sexual harassment and flirting. Social media plays a huge role in our daily lives, and is an often-overlooked integral aspect of the teenage experience. But teens often don’t fully comprehend the level of information that is so easily accessible by others when using certain apps or sites, and this lack of knowledge can be dangerous. Social media can also create a feeling of disconnection from whom you’re speaking with, making it easier to be mean to another person without understanding the ramifications. We will also discuss digital boundaries to ensure your children are giving and receiving the respect they deserve when using social media and are in a relationship.

We will further the conversation about boundaries with our discussion on sexual harassment and flirting. Understanding the differences between sexual harassment and flirting can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Often, society teaches children and young adults that some actions are flirting when they are actually pushing an individual’s boundaries, causing discomfort. In reality, these perpetrations are forms of harassment. Personal boundaries, reading body language, and open communication are essential components of any interaction, flirting included. So, we will break down the differences between harassment and flirtation; unpack individual boundaries and levels of comfort with the intention to promote happy, fun, enjoyable flirting experiences while mitigating all potential forms of sexual harassment.

We urge you to have the same conversations with your children after we meet and discuss these topics. There is always more to discuss.

We hope this newsletter finds you well and that you are enjoying this early coming of Spring-like weather. As always, if you have any questions about any of the topics presented above, please feel free to contact us at interactyouthservices@gmail.com or call at (919) 828-7501.

How Black Panther is Good for Our Mental Health By Vanessa Soleil

The newest film from Marvel Studios is getting a lot of well-earned attention. It wows with its creative visuals, exciting action, compelling story, strong characters, and stellar acting. The fictionalized African nation of Wakanda is a richly imagined world with innovative technology, and powerful and principled leaders. As many are taking note, Black Panther’s impact goes beyond its entertainment value and blockbuster success. With its predominantly black cast, production crew, and director, this film makes history because it expands and widens representations of Africa and African Americans in the media. Research shows that seeing images from one’s own cultural and ethnic background increases self-worth and contributes to a sense of hopefulness and possibility. When popular culture offers up positive representations of people who are often stereotyped or overlooked, we all benefit. Youth from diverse backgrounds are provided with models to which they can aspire, and research has found that depictions that better reflect the humanity of marginalized people promotes greater empathy among the rest of us. In contrast, when there is a lack of representation, it can lead people to feel like they are invisible, or that their existence does not matter.

People across the globe are taking notice of Black Panther due to Marvel’s tremendous fan following. I wanted to take a moment to highlight some other family friendly movies, shows, and books that can have a positive impact on mental health and wellness through their inclusive representations that may be lesser known. These titles can uplift and promote a healthy self-concept through the visibility and inclusion of underrepresented identities.

Movies: Meet the Patels, Akeelah and the Bee, Hidden Figures, Moana, Los Punks, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
TV series: Born this Way, Fresh off the Boat, One Day at a Time, Huge
Comic books: Ms. Marvel, Black Panther, El Deafo by CeCe Bell
Young Adult Fiction: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo, Antisocial by Jillian Blake and Tara Sands, Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, The Garden of my Imaan by Farhana Zia, The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, This Book isn’t Fat, It’s Fabulous by Nina Beck
Children’s books: Wings by Christopher Myers, Skin Again by bell hooks, Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino

Part of our vision at CCERC is to offer world class, multicultural, social justice counseling. As advocates for media that is affirming and improves mental health, we applaud these efforts. We also call for more stories and heroes that reflect the wide spectrum of human diversity in our society. Maybe it’s time to tell your story!

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM)!

Hello parents,

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM)! Teen Dating Violence (TDV) often goes unnoticed and discussed due to our belief that these are not “adult” issues. However, this is not the case: one in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner and one in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend (loveisrespect.org). Further, abuse and violence that begins in adolescence become more extreme in adulthood. We at InterAct aim to drastically lessen these statistics by talking to your children about boundaries, expectations, and TDV.

Boundaries and expectations often go unspoken during romance, leading to unhealthy assumptions and standards within romantic dynamics. By addressing individual boundaries, expectations, desire, and beliefs, we will deconstruct expectations to ensure that what your children are looking for is healthy, fair, and realistic. Further, by acknowledging the prevalence of dating violence, red flags, coping skills, and self-reflection, we will help your children better fathom the gravity of TDV while providing them the skills to lead healthy lives as individuals and as romantic partners.

This topic can be heavy and triggering for parents and students, alike. Websites and organizations such as Break The Cycle (breakthecycle.org), Love is Respect (loveisrespect.org), and RAINN (rain.org) offer fantastic education for teens and adults, and we recommend you search them if you have any concerns whatsoever. Also, please continue to talk about these difficult topics with your children. We can only do so much in the few hours we see them, and these discussions merit much more than we can offer in this limited capacity.

As always, if you have any questions about any of the topics presented above, please feel free to contact us at interactyouthservices@gmail.com or call at (919) 828-7501.

Hello, Parents!

Last month at Teen Talk, our InterAct staff discussed personality types and how unique characteristics of a person can affect how they act in relationships.  Specifically, we addressed how to utilize one’s natural strengths while acknowledging areas for growth.  Further, we talked of how your children can use their skills to be active and responsible in relationships while promoting an understanding that their partner may have different strengths, weaknesses, and overall values than they do.   It was our goal to leave them with a more expansive perspective on differences amongst themselves, their peers, and their romantic interests to ensure nonjudgmental, healthy interpersonal dynamics.

In December, our first meeting will build off of the past discussions, promoting your children to create-a-date, i.e., what is their ideal fun date?  How do their boundaries (deal-breakers) and requirements (must-haves) factor into what they expect when going out with someone?  We hope that your children will utilize that knowledge for more in-depth self-exploration, as well.  Our second meeting will then be a switch in tone with a joint holiday party with North Carolina State University’s Community, Counseling, Education, and Research Center (CCERC)!  We will eat some food, play some games, relax, and wind down our year in festive fashion.

We at InterAct would like to thank you for supporting your children through one more year.  It has been a pleasure talking with them, and we are looking forward to continuing our discussions next year.  As always, if you have any questions about any of the topics presented above, please feel free to contact us at interactyouthservices@gmail.com or call at (919) 828-7501.

Merry holidays & happy New Year,

InterAct Youth Services

How to Stay Stress-free This Holiday Season by Dave Hughes

Well, they’re here again.  And while they may represent different beliefs and mean different things for each of us, they tend to bring with them visits from relatives, turkey-induced tryptophan comas, gift shopping, work parties, traveling, cooking, school plays and events, breaking a budget or two, and oh yeah: stress.  Let’s face it, the holidays can be tough.  Let’s talk about how to take care of yourself during this busy festive season.

Own where you’re at

There can be a lot of social pressure on us to embody some sort of Hallmark picturesque image of 24/7 joy and cheer this time of year.  This is especially true when we can scroll through pictures and updates from the best 5% of everyone else’s life on our phones and compare it to the messy (aka normal) 100% of ours.  There seems to be an unspoken message that that 5% is what we should be experiencing all the time.  For many of us though, this season can be marked with feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, or any number of difficult emotions and you know what?  That’s OK.  Take some time out each day and have an honest check-in with yourself.  Ask yourself: where am I at right now?  What am I feeling?  Allow it to stand in stark rebellion to what our social media feeds and televisions tell us we should be feeling.

Don’t own where you’re not

This time of year, many of us spend time visiting with family members we haven’t seen for a while.  While these relatives may bring us joy or fond memories, they can also bring us baggage that doesn’t belong to us.  That aunt that keeps trying to fit you into the box you don’t belong in?  The sibling who has the answer to all your problems and won’t stop asking you why you’re still single?  The parent who keeps telling you how to parent your own children?  It’s OK to have some healthy boundaries with them.  You don’t have to be aggressive but you don’t have to be a doormat either.  You can be assertive and kind in insisting that people be as respectful of your boundaries as you are with theirs.  And remember, at the end of the day they don’t get the last word on you and how you live.  It’s okay to spend time with people that bring emotional baggage, but wedon’t have to take all that baggage home with us.

Listen (and be kind) to your body

Stress shows up in more than just our emotions or our thoughts; it shows up in our bodies as well.  Notice your sleep and eating patterns, and try to work in some exercise and time outside in nature.  We tend to drag our bodies around all day while our brains are busy trying to fix the past or off making sure our future turns out right.  Take some time to yourself.  Notice what it feels like to take 5 minutes for yourself and unapologetically do nothing with them but enjoy them.

If you’d like more information about CCERC (the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Center) located at the WELL, please contact us at ccerc_admin@ncsu.edu or by phone at 919.856.9233 ext. 107. You can also go to our website: go.ncsu.edu/ccerc. Please note that CCERC will be closed for NC State’s winter break from December 13 until January 8th.

Interact Challenges Stereotypes in Teen Talk

By: Interact

Hello, parents!

Welcome back to another year of academia.  We at InterAct Youth Services are excited to educate our students, your children!  This month, we will be focusing on challenging stereotypes.  Questioning normative standards is an essential aspect of critical thinking, and high school is the perfect time to hone one’s skills.  By looking at gender norms, self-love, and the value in other people’s differences, we will open a dialogue for your children to discuss our culture.  We will then further analyze individual biases and how they impact personal relationships, as well.

This choice of content is largely in part due to October being bullying prevention awareness month, stating the goal of “…encourage[ing] communities to work together to stop bullying and cyberbullying by increasing awareness of the prevalence and impact of bullying on all children of all ages.”  Bullying can occur due to a variety of factors: age, gender, gender orientation, sex, race, ethnicity, class, and religion.  Constant bullying can have a powerfully detrimental effect on a child’s cognitive and social development, self-worth, and self-confidence; can increase stress, and can lead to substance abuse.  It is essential that we converse about loving one’s self, valuing others, and being accepting of other’s differences.  Everybody deserves to be accepted for who they are, and our goal is to promote this belief to create a healthier, more joyous world.

Our first meeting will consist of discussing normative standards, particularly gender stereotypes, to decrease stigma and increase understanding of differences.  We hope to mitigate bullying and propagate a culture of valuing differences through acceptance.  Our second week will look at our individual biases and how they impact our relationships directly.  This is all with the goal of enhancing your children’s critical thinking and promoting a culture of acceptance.

Outside of our class time, we urge you to have these conversations with your children.  If you suspect your child is being bullied or is bullying, please reach out and try to help.  When you hear your child make a gender-normative, racist, sexist, classist, or other oppressive statements that trivializes another’s experience, please do not let it go unchecked.  Together, we can create a culture of acceptance.  Together, we can strive to better the world.  For, as they say, it takes a village.

If you have any questions about any of the topics presented above, please feel free to contact us at interactyouthservices@gmail.com or call at (919) 828-7501.