Half of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14—but childhood interventions can reduce the impact of, or even prevent, these illnesses. That’s the idea behind The Resilience Project, a unique partnership between Newton-Wellesley Hospital (NWH) and nearby schools focused on supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children and adolescents in those communities.

Launched in 2015 in response to a series of adolescent suicides in the region, the project takes a holistic approach to supporting the mental health of high school students in Natick, Needham, Newton, Waltham, Wellesley, and Weston. With innovative programming, parent support, and access to clinical services from the NWH Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the project promotes resilience and wellness for students, parents, educators, and communities. With a second, $4 million grant from The Manton Foundation, the project will expand from its current reach—7 high schools—to include 11 public middle schools with more than 8,000 combined students.

“As the region’s only community hospital with pediatric psychiatry services both in our emergency department and in outpatient clinical care, we see children and adolescents across the broad continuum of mental health disorders,” says Elizabeth Booma, MD, Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NWH. “The idea of The Resilience Project is to reach children and adolescents at an earlier stage, before issues become crises, with strategies to help them face adversity with greater resilience.”

The project targets specific areas of concern to adolescents—such as school anxiety, cannabis use, nicotine, and vaping—through programming for schools and parents including professional development lectures, parent workshops, and an annual educational summit at NWH.

“With great kindness and empathy, the program’s leaders have created a supportive environment for parents to learn and share skills for better communication with teenage children,” notes one parent. “We have seen that when we try to keep the “Cs” of communication in mind—calm, curious, and connected—we can communicate more thoughtfully with our daughter.”

Workshop and lecture topics range from the importance of family dinners to inspiring stories from individuals, such as an MIT professor who shared photos and insights from MIT students and staff who have struggled with psychiatric illness. Through 35 events last year, the project reached nearly 1,000 individuals.

“We are looking forward to expanding this program to reach even more students, parents, and educators at middle schools in our community,” adds Dr. Booma. “We know that the earlier we can intervene, the more likely it is that we can help prevent the anxiety, depression, and loneliness at the root of psychiatric illness.”

In addition to programming, each participating school has an assigned NWH psychiatrist and social worker to manage clinical consultations and treatment referrals, both at NWH and within the Partners HealthCare network to programs at McLean Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.

For some parents reached by The Resilience Project, the experience was so enriching that those participants continued to meet once their workshop concluded. In response, the project established an alumni group to provide a structure for parents to continue to share stories and support once their programs are over.

“This program helped me feel I was not alone in my problems with my teens, while teaching me with real tools to better work with my own limitations and those of young adults to help them and our ongoing relationship,” adds another parent participant. “Two years later, I’m proud to say, I have two loving sons who spent the entire past summer with me (a challenge in itself with a 20 and 18 year old). It’s a work in progress, but we have better boundaries and communications than ever.”

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Topics: Behavioral Health, Access to Care

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