- Author: Marcel Horowitz
- Author: Dorina Espinoza
- Author: Anne Iaccopucci
- Author: Natalie Cunha
As a result of UC 4-H Mindful Mechanics classes, 4-H staff feel better prepared to lead lessons and discussions with 4-H youth around mindfulness, mental health, and stress-management, demonstrating UC ANR's commitment to healthy people and communities.
Seven out of ten teens are struggling with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, as is demonstrated by a 2020 report from national 4-H. Poor mental health can lead to uncertainty, anxiety and depression. Eighty two percent of youth surveyed are “calling on America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues in this country.” Seventy-nine percent wished there was a safe space for people in school to talk about mental health, and 70% want schools to teach them more about mental health and coping. As the nation's largest out-of school youth organization, 4-H has a significant role to play in ameliorating these concerns and issues.
“In particular, teens who are less resilient seem to struggle, reporting more frequent feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as a stronger struggle with ambiguity and pressure from others to hide their feelings (National 4-H). However, many Cooperative Extension professionals don't feel prepared to discuss, much less teach, the concepts that build emotional resilience.
How UC Delivers
UC ANR academics, Anne Iaccopucci and Katherine Soule, partnered with Kendra Lewis of University of New Hampshire to change that. With the development of the Mindful Mechanics curriculum adopted by National 4-H, Youth Development professionals have a tool to begin these conversations and interventions with youth members ages twelve and older.
Using this curriculum, the UC 4-H Healthy Living Leadership Team (comprised of Marcel Horowitz, Dorina Espinoza and Natalie Cunha, in addition to the lead author of the curriculum) offered a 13-lesson virtual statewide project for teen members in the winter of 2021, which occurred one year into stay-at-home orders that exacerbated mental health issues for many youth.
In particular, the Mindful Mechanics project taught youth to check in with their body, manage thoughts and emotions, focus on the present moment, find reasons to be grateful, use positive self-talk to improve their outlook, and to visualize joy. All of these skills are found to increase positive psychology in individuals.
A national 4-H survey stated that “4‑H Healthy Living programs provide youth with a better understanding of how their choices can help themselves, their families, and their communities.” To help their communities, youth were asked to draw a lifesize walking meditation labyrinth in a public location for others to use.
Youth in the project reported that they learned “to appreciate myself and the things I am capable of doing”, and “how to calm myself.” National 4-H research has found that resilient teens report higher levels of confidence solving their own mental health struggles, as well as helping others with theirs; they also feel more equipped to tap into support networks compared with individuals who did not consider themselves resilient. Programs like the UC 4-H Mindfulness Mechanics class demonstrate UC ANR's commitment to healthy people and communities.
The project leaders all reported improvements in their confidence and abilities to teach mindfulness and stress-reductions skills to adolescents.
Natalie Cunha, 4-H Community Education Specialist and Co-Project Leader, stated “Cooperative Extension professionals can pass their skills on to volunteers who will then take the knowledge further into their community to positively affect their youth, integrating public and mental health into the 4-H programs.”
Dorina Espinoza, Youth, Families and Communities Advisor in Humboldt/Del Norte Counties, stated the importance of incorporating even short regular mindful practices into 4-H programming, “several participants expressed the positive impact of a 5-minute mindfulness session at the beginning of each project session”.
Marcel Horowitz, Healthy Living Leadership Team Co-Chair, Healthy Youth, Families and Communities Advisor in Yolo County, and Co-Project Leader “feels more empowered to work with teens to teach them ways they can manage the stress in their lives. These materials provide a framework for leading teens through the development of skills they need to learn to manage these emotions throughout their lives. A successful, thriving life depends on it”.
Anne Iaccopucci, Healthy Living Academic Coordinator and lead author, shared “opportunities, like the UC 4-H Virtual Mindful Mechanics project, provide extension professionals experience in delivering virtual social-emotional content through a supportive community of co-leaders.”