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Story of Hope: HFM Helps Prevent Youth Suicide

Hayly Ojeda, Program Manager for HFM's Project Bridge, shares how we seek to promote positive mental health in Miami.

Hi Hayly, Tell us what Project Bridge is and how it addresses the mental health crisis facing Miami's youth. The Challenge: To begin with, one of the main causes of suicide and self-harm among youth stems from difficult childhood experiences. But thankfully, there are ways to navigate these events by building resilience in youth and providing support via the types of help that Project Bridge offers. Our ultimate goal is to “break the cycle,” to prevent the repetition of adverse childhood experiences for generations to come. We discuss the stigma that contributes to poor mental health, promote protective factors and address the experiences of those who attend our prevention training.

Our Approach: Project Bridge seeks to train parents, staff, and students on Youth Mental Health First Aid. Our team members are equipped with skills to recognize the signs and symptoms someone may display when experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis. Moreover, they have been trained to help allocate resources, navigate difficult conversations, support the mental health journey, and teach people how to focus on their own self-care practice as individuals and as mental health first-aiders. Maintaining open-dialogue with youth in all these efforts is key.

Flexible Scheduling: The training Project Bridge provides can be executed several different ways since the entire process takes about six and a half hours to complete. Sometimes team members split up the training into 3.5 hour sessions or 45 minute sessions for younger attendees. Some of my previous work experiences helped prepare me on how to start difficult conversations. One thing that is vital is to preface a prevention presentation with a trigger warning of some of the topics discussed. We try to be sensitive and attendees are free to take a break anytime throughout the training and are encouraged to reach out to her for more information. Being mindful and considerate of others is a primary value in all we do.

You mentioned earlier the need for "open dialogue" between at-risk youth and their surrounding community regarding their lives. Why is that important?

I think it helps break the stigma of mental health challenges. Over the years, discussing these matters has gotten better, but there's a long way to go. Things like recognizing the ”cards they were dealt” in life with they didn’t have control over and equipping them with tools that would help them overcome challenges are important.

Is there ever any reason there should not be conversations happening about a student’s mental health, around matters like bullying or social ostracization?

As an educator, I think it's really important on how the conversations are facilitated, what kind of environment has been created in the classroom that drives where that could go. The more open and honest the dialogue with students, the less stigmatized and uncomfortable they feel. What are your main responsibilities with Project Bridge? My tasks include reaching out to organizations and entities to offer prevention training for parents, staff, and students, co-running the Project Bridge social media pages, bridging the gap of awareness about certain topics that relate to mental health, attending events to network and promote the program, and soon, I'll be facilitating trainings with teens.

What is your proudest accomplishment with Project Bridge? I would say looking forward to educating people about mental health and helping them feel more comfortable with the topic, having conversations and building their confidence to share their knowledge and support. I’m happy to see that Hope for Miami is including mental health in their initiatives and promoting positive youth mental health.

Hayly, thanks so much for all you do and for sharing with us!

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