After reporting on the suicides of four young men within two years, including three who were Eden Prairie High School students, and learning that suicidal ideation in young women was rapidly increasing, Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) began working on Silent Struggles in April 2023. EPLN presents an eight-part series on the critical issues surrounding mental health and suicidal ideation through the eyes of survivors, and provides resources available for families, friends, and those who serve our young people in Eden Prairie. Follow our weekly reports at eplocalnews.org. This is Part 7.
Some of the best help for teenagers struggling with mental health may be close to home: community nonprofits that know Eden Prairie, its strengths, its shortcomings, and all the local systems that work with kids.
Two of the nonprofits are Kaleidoscope Teens, led by Eden Prairie resident Tammy Ryder-Harms, and Relate Counseling Center, which has an office in Eden Prairie and has an Eden Prairie High School graduate, Ashley Teigland, as its clinical director of school services.
They operate in separate spots on the wide spectrum of organizations – mostly nonprofits– that provide mental health services to Eden Prairie residents and the rest of the Twin Cities area.
Kaleidoscope Teens uses weekly mentoring and other support, including its connections to other Eden Prairie organizations, to build teenagers’ coping and life skills, sometimes over a period of years.
“I tell these kids, ‘You’re stuck with me till I’m taking my dirt nap,’” said Ryder-Harms, the executive director of the organization, founded in June 2022.
Relate Counseling Center, meanwhile, is a mental health care provider that uses professional clinicians to help teens, but also children, adults, couples, and families, improve their mental or chemical health by using therapy and counseling. More than 70% of its clients receive financial help to pay for services.
At a time when 39% of female 11th graders in Eden Prairie and 19% of male 11th graders report having long-term mental health behavioral or emotional problems, organizations like Kaleidoscope Teens and Relate Counseling Center can play a critical role. They are often more accessible than better-known organizations, are open to long-term relationships, and strongly emphasize “relationship building,” which experts say is a key to teenagers’ mental health.
Even Scouting organizations, as well as Boys Club & Girls Club, are “critically important for what I call mental well-being,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of Minnesota’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), located in St. Paul.
Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN) spoke to Ryder-Harms and Teigland about Kaleidoscope Teens and Relate Counseling Center, the local teen mental health issues they are seeing, and how their organizations are helping. Here’s what they had to say:
A young man, whose name was withheld, recently wrote about connecting with Ryder-Harms as a struggling 14-year-old, when Ryder-Harms was with Eden Prairie TreeHouse before starting Kaleidoscope Teens.
“It was a good way to get out of the house and just away from school,” he wrote about activities led by Ryder-Harms. “It really helped to just be able to go somewhere and be comfortable and know I’m protected and cared about.”
It became much more, with weekly one-on-one sessions and even school support. Now, that young man is in college.
“But I know (Kaleidoscope) will always have my back if I need them and check in on me still to this day,” he wrote. “Kaleidoscope was exactly what I needed as a kid, and I am glad I got to experience it.”
Ryder-Harms and other staff and volunteers have worked with a diverse group of teens over time – some of them as long as six years. That ongoing connection is important because she’s seen too many programs that work with teens on their suicidal ideation and other issues for just a few weeks, then jettison them without ongoing support.
“The reason I exist is because I recognized that a short-term solution doesn’t solve the problem,” she said. “I can walk with them from age 11 to 19.”
That lasting friendship is important. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing, but building strong bonds and connecting to youth can protect their mental health.
Also, believing there is strength in numbers, Kaleidoscope Teens puts heavy emphasis on connecting all of the local schools and organizations that intersect with teens so there is not just one source of help but an entire network.
It’s about being united in working with teens, Ryder-Harms said, which is why she works closely with the police department, pediatricians, the schools, and organizations like PROP, The PROP Shop, Onward Eden Prairie, and MyHelp.
“No one of us can be all things,” she explained. “None of us can have them for an hour a week or 15 minutes in the office and have it be enough. We all have to work together.”
The young people ages 11 through 18 who seek help from Kaleidoscope Teens through weekly gatherings and special activities may be experiencing a variety of issues, including family poverty or food insecurity, but Ryder-Harms says pretty much all of them struggle with mental health. A lot of her emphasis is on providing coping and life skills, meaning financial literacy, getting and holding a job, study skills, and even lessons in cooking meals.
And, of course, lessons in recognizing their own anxiety, its source, and how to reduce it. “Riding the wave” is what she calls it.
“I think if you honestly surveyed all teens, I think every single one of them would say they experience anxiety and depression and stress,” she said. “One thing that will diminish pain is knowing that you’re not alone.
“My goal is to train them to look for the good in their life, too. Because no matter what you’re going through, there’s always something positive.”
Kaleidoscope’s approach includes group and one-on-one support, as well as mentoring – steps that Ryder-Harms says have shown to reduce suicide in teens. She says that 2-3 dozen young people are regularly coming to her weekly programs.
The challenge is great. COVID-19 and all its repercussions increased mental health issues that were on the rise before the pandemic, according to the American Medical Association. On top of that is the risk of harm from social media that has prompted the U.S. Surgeon General to call for more research to assess its impacts.
Teens’ 24/7 access to phones means “they are 100% of the time bombarded by negativity, and dramatic and traumatic things that are happening around the world, not just in Eden Prairie, not just in Minnesota, but around the world,” said Ryder-Harms. “That didn’t use to be. It’s a weight these kids shouldn’t have to bear, that they don’t ever get to get rid of because they are so addicted to the dopamine hits from their phones that they can’t put their phones down.
“There’s so many sources of fear and anxiety and depression and stress,” she added. “It comes at them from everywhere.”
She often sees teens’ schoolwork suffer as a result. Sometimes, she says, parental pressure to achieve adds to the problem.
“The more they get pressured, the more they completely shut down,” said Ryder-Harms. “So (mental health) impacts grades, it impacts graduation rates – it’s all totally connected, academics and mental health.”
Ryder-Harms believes there is some ignorance of what kids face and how it impacts them. Kaleidoscope Teens and its partners are working on that, she adds, but no single group can address teen mental health on its own.
Said Ryder-Harms: “We have got to lock arms.”
Relate Counseling Center
Relate Counseling Center is a believer that therapy provides a safe space for teens to share concerns and challenges while feeling understood and supported. It seems like a wise approach, considering that more than 15% of Minnesota youth – about 64,000 of them – are experiencing severe major depression, according to a national nonprofit called Mental Health America.
Like Ryder-Harms, Teigland experienced issues within her own family that helped determine her college and career path after EPHS. She has been with Relate Counseling Center for a little over six years and in the mental health field for over 10 years.
When considering teen mental health, “I think about how complex it is,” said Teigland. “And by providing full, wraparound, system-level care, we can help tease apart what the teen’s true individual mental health is, how the family or school system is functioning and what role they are playing in the teen’s mental health, whether that’s working with parents or teachers, school staff, the individual students themselves.
“It’s complex, and we’re definitely seeing an increase. We’re still in the beginning, in my opinion, of some of the fallout from COVID, and the impacts on the whole school system from that.”
Relate Counseling Center has two office locations and works in eight school districts, though not the Eden Prairie Schools. (Washburn Center for Children serves the local school district.) The organization is also helping people by working within a couple of food shelves, including Eden Prairie-based PROP.
“We have to look at what’s underneath. What’s creating the anxiety, what’s creating the school avoidance, or the depression.”Ashley Teigland, Relate Counseling Center
Misuse of social media is one of the teenager issues Teigland and her colleagues encounter. Actually, it’s about proper use of the internet in general and the detrimental effects of spending so much time on a mobile phone, scrolling through content including social media, she explains.
“I would say social media is a big one. Access to chemicals is a big one. Just family conflict or family complexities. Grief and loss is a big one, too,” she said.
The many factors, and symptoms, are what make the treatment of teen mental health issues such a complex matter, says Teigland.
“We’re missing the boat if we just look at the individual and what their presenting mental health symptoms are,” she explained. “We really need to look at how they are functioning within their systems and how those important people in their systems are interacting with them.”
That includes family, school, friends, coaches …
“We have to look at what’s underneath,” Teigland added. “What’s creating the anxiety, what’s creating the school avoidance, or the depression.”
Like Ryder-Harms, she says growing up in Eden Prairie can add another dimension to young people’s mental health.
“Having one high school that feels like a college – that could be really tough for some kids to navigate,” she said.
“I feel like Eden Prairie and a few other surrounding suburbs face the challenge of being seen as a very high socioeconomic community, higher privilege, not very diverse. But it’s changed a lot, and it’s much more blended than it used to be, and I think that creates some additional things to think about – the importance of looking at what’s needed for youth support.”
One of the advantages of a counseling center like Relate is that there’s a diagnostic assessment for every new client. Teigland says it might take a couple of sessions to feel you have enough information about a client to make a diagnosis and set goals for therapy. That baseline is updated every six months. On top of all that is a safety plan if a client is experiencing suicidal ideation.
But, at Relate there is a waiting list of 200-plus persons, Teigland says, and many are young people.
“Right now what I’m hearing across the board at a lot of local agencies is hiring difficulties – having enough trained therapists to provide the work is a challenge right now,” she said. It’s the tight labor market but also the difficulty of the work and – especially for nonprofits – the pay.
“I think we really need to look at supporting front-line workers like therapists and teachers, because the turnover and burnout is really high,” Teigland said.
“Another gap is still the destigmatizing of mental health and what that means to have a therapist or seek support,” added Teigland. “We’ve come a long way, but definitely have some more work to do in that area.”
But there are also some positives to note, according to Teigland, including greater general awareness of mental health issues and more funding to combat them. Master’s-level college programs for therapists continue to grow, she said, “And I’ve seen a lot of really cool collaborations among mental health clinics, and looking at how we can work together.”
As to what’s down the road, as far as our ability to help all teens with mental health: “I am more optimistic than I am pessimistic about it,” she said. “There’s definitely areas that we need to invest in and invest in soon around funding and support. But I am optimistic that we will get there. Maybe not as fast as we need to.”
Abderholden, NAMI Minnesota’s executive director, shares that her organization routinely asks teens to write messages of support to their struggling peers. Some of the more inspiring ones are “Don’t Give Up,” “You Can Cry on My Shoulder,” “You Matter,” and her personal favorite, “Broken Crayons Still Color.”
It’s part of what makes her optimistic that teen mental health can be improved.
“Teenagers are not afraid to talk about mental health,” she said. “We’re going to be able to identify things early” because of that, and early intervention is critical.
Editor’s note: The final installment of EPLN’s Silent Struggles eight-part series, focusing on mental health resources, will be published on Nov. 30. This part will include a comprehensive list of local, regional, and national agencies prepared to assist individuals in crisis and offer information to those in need.
If you or a loved one is in crisis, please call 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or text “MN” to 741741. Trained counselors are available to help 24/7/365.
If you or a loved one is at imminent risk, please contact 911 and ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer.
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