In May of 2018, a student from one of their participating middle schools ended his life just days before school ended, sending ripples of shock and grief throughout the school community. As in many schools today, teen mental health is forefront – and mental health and wellbeing in the classroom is a priority. Educating both students and staff is key.
Since 1992, Jeff Yalden has been “in the trenches” – speaking in schools all over the world. Mental health has become his primary focus as he continues to grow personally as a man who proudly lives with mental illness himself. He is diagnosed with major depression, bipolar II disorder and PTSD.
Jeff says “proudly” because he is working on himself every day and has come to realize that acknowledging his illness, accepting it and seeking the help he needs has been a blessing. As a result, he says he is able to live a healthy and normal life because his mental illness is managed well. He credits therapy and medication prescribed by a medical professional, but more importantly the fact that he is able to recognize his triggers and takes his daily self-care very seriously.
During Jeff’s visit to Habersham Ninth Grade Academy, one of the teachers asked about a follow-up to Jeff’s visit with the students and staff. He was glad the question came up, and it is one that is usually asked. The accompanying video was made for the school and is intended for viewing by the school in advisory a week after Jeff’s visit.
As with any visit from a youth motivational or mental health speaker, it’s important to have a follow-up. If that doesn’t happen, typically the message that was delivered is soon forgotten and things go back to the way they were before. This shouldn’t be the case, and far from what any youth speaker wants.
Jeff always says, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
Jeff’s message is all about three components: Attitude, choices and behavior.
As he spoke to more than 550 students on August 22, he talked about how he or others come into their lives to plant seeds. It’s up to the students (or other individuals) to recognize these seeds and to act on them.
Jeff came to the school because a student had chosen to make the “forever decision” and end his life by suicide – but his message is about so much more.
Teens today don’t care about titles, research or textbook explanations. According to Jeff, they implicitly or even overtly ask two questions: “Do you care about me?” and “Can I trust you?”
Jeff talks about life, mental health and being okay with not always being okay. He shares much of his story and that is one thing the students really respect. They appreciate a big, bald tough guy who isn’t afraid to share from the heart that thoughts are thoughts and feelings are feelings, but those feelings need to be shared or else they will manifest and explode at some point later in life. Jeff tells his story of how asking for help has made a big difference.
His message is about processing the emotions these young people experienced as a result of the loss of their friend. When we talk, our anxiety is lowered and we begin to feel better.
Jeff tells the students that he is talking to them here where they are emotionally and in the present moment and asks them a series of questions: “Who are you?” “Where are you?” “Where do you want to go?” “How do you want to get there?” This message is weaved with stories of hope, resiliency and grit.
There are many serious moments blended with humor and then Jeff spends the day talking with groups or individuals that want to visit with Jeff and the counselors.
While visiting Habersham Ninth Grade Academy Jeff spent two full days with students and staff. The conversations covered everything from these kids having to deal with adult issues to students simply wanting to say hello and thank you.
“It was an amazing day,” says Jeff.
Seeds are planted every day. It’s up to the students to see these “Ah-Ha” moments as a lesson in life and to do something with what they hear instead. Sometimes, there is no need for further instruction, education or validation from speakers, coaches or teachers. Students need to be asking their own questions and validating themselves.
“Live with an open mind and a growth mindset every day and never be afraid to open your heart and love yourself.”
Thank you Habersham Ninth Grade Academy for giving The Jeff Yalden Foundation, Inc. this experience with your amazing students and staff.August 22-23, 2019 Habersham 9th Grade Academy in Mt. Airy, GA brought Top Teen Mental Health and Youth Motivational Speaker to their school for two full days.