Guideposts for Success for Youth with Mental Health Needs

The Guideposts for Success are a framework to assist the multiple organizations that need to be involved to meet the needs and improve the transition outcomes of all youth including youth with disabilities and to create necessary community webs of support.

The Guideposts for Success for Youth with Mental Health Needs are particularly helpful for youth service practitioners serving youth with mental health needs. Youth with mental health needs may not be properly diagnosed, if they are diagnosed at all, especially during the teenage years when it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between (1) a mental health issue; (2) typical anxiety experienced by youth, particularly if those feelings are not behaviorally expressed; and (3) substance abuse, which may be a secondary issue that many youth with mental health needs may experience. Youth with mental health needs may not have a stable base of support, or any support, which hampers their successful transition from adolescence to adulthood, especially given the stigma associated with mental illness.

The likelihood for economic stability and success is increased for youth with mental health needs if an intentional, integrated, and well-coordinated set of supports is in place, a sort of unconditional safety net. The Guideposts point the way to providing those supports.

The five Guidepost areas of focus are:

School-Based Preparatory Experiences

In addition to the School-based Preparatory experiences that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth with mental health needs have some specific needs.

Because of the episodic nature of mental health disabilities, youth with mental health needs require educational environments that are flexible and stable and that provide opportunities to learn responsibilities and become engaged and empowered. These youth may need additional educational supports and services such as

  • comprehensive transition plans (including school-based behavior plans) linked across systems, without stigmatizing language, that identify goals, objectives, strategies, supports, and outcomes that address individual mental health needs in the context of education;
  • appropriate, culturally sensitive, behavioral and medical health interventions and supports;
  • academically challenging educational programs and general education supports that engage and re-engage youth in learning;
  • opportunities to develop self-awareness of behavioral triggers and reasonable accommodations for use in educational and workplace settings; and
  • coordinated support to address social-emotional transition needs from a highly qualified, cross-agency support team (e.g., wraparound team), which includes health, mental health, child welfare, parole/probation professionals, relevant case managers, and natural supports from family, friends, mentors, and others.

Career Preparation & Work-Based Learning Experiences

In addition to the Career Preparation and Work-based Learning experiences that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth with mental health needs have some specific needs.

Because some youth with mental health needs may feel their employment choices are limited or may not understand the value of work in recovery, they need connections to a full range of youth employment programs and services such as:

  • graduated (preparatory, emerging awareness, proficient) opportunities to gain and practice their work skills (“soft skills”) in workplace settings;
  • positive behavioral supports in work settings;
  • connections to successfully employed peers and role models with mental health needs;
  • knowledge of effective methods of stress management to cope with the pressures of the  workplace;
  • knowledge of and access to a full range of workplace supports and accommodations such as supported employment, customized employment, job carving, and job coaches; and
  • connections as early as possible to programs and services (e.g., One-Stop Career Centers, Vocational Rehabilitation, Community Rehabilitation Programs) for career exploration provided in a non-stigmatizing environment.

Youth Development & Leadership

In addition to the Youth Development and Leadership opportunities that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth with mental health needs have some specific needs.

Some youth with mental health needs may be susceptible to peer pressure, experiment with antisocial behaviors or illegal substances, and/or attempt suicide as a manifestation of their disability and/or expression of independence. To facilitate positive youth development and leadership, these youth need:

  • meaningful opportunities to develop, monitor, and self-direct their own treatment, recovery plans, and services;
  • opportunities to learn healthy behaviors regarding substance use and avoidance, suicide prevention, and safe sexual practices;
  • exposure to factors of positive youth development such as nutrition, exercise, recreation and spirituality;
  • an understanding of how disability disclosure can be used pro-actively;
  • an understanding of the dimensions of mental health treatment including medication maintenance, outpatient and community-based services and supports;
  • an understanding of how mental health stigma can compromise individual health maintenance and appropriate engagement in treatment and recovery;
  • continuity of access to and an understanding of the requirements and procedures involved in obtaining mental health services and supports as an independent young adult;
  • strategies for addressing the negative stigma and discrimination associated with mental health needs including cultural, racial, social, and gender factors;
  • opportunities to develop meaningful relationships with peers, mentors, and role models with similar mental health needs;
  • exposure to peer networks and adult consumers of mental health services with positive treatment and recovery outcomes;
  • social skills training and exposure to programs that will help them learn to manage their disability/ies; and
  • opportunities to give back and improve the lives of others, such as community service and civic engagement.

Connecting Activities

In addition to the Connecting Activities that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth with mental health needs have some specific needs.

Some youth with mental health needs may require a safety net accepting of the boundary pushing that is part of identity development and may include additional and more intense connections to information, programs, services, and activities that are critical to a successful transition. These youth may need:

  • an understanding of how to locate and maintain appropriate mental health care services, including counseling and medications;
  • an understanding of how to create and maintain informal personal support networks;
  • access to safe, affordable, permanent housing, including options such as transitional and supported housing;
  • access to flexible financial aid options for postsecondary education not tied to full-time enrollment;
  • policies and service practices that provide a safety net for fluctuations in a youth’s mental health status;
  • case managers (e.g., health care, juvenile justice, child welfare) who connect and collaborate across systems; and
  • service providers who are well-trained, empathetic, and take a holistic approach to service delivery.

Family Involvement & Supports

In addition to the Family Involvement and Supports that all youth, including youth with disabilities, need, youth with mental health needs have some specific needs.

Youth with mental health needs also need parents, families, and/or other caring adults who:

  • understand the cyclical and episodic nature of mental illness;
  • offer emotional support;
  • know how to recognize and address key warning signs of suicide, the co-occurring relationship between substance abuse and mental health needs, and other risky behaviors;
  • monitor youth behavior and anticipate crises without becoming intrusive;
  • understand how the individualized plans across systems can support the achievement of educational and employment goals;
  • access supports and professionals to help navigate the interwoven systems such as mental health, juvenile justice, and child welfare;
  • access supports and resources for youth with mental health needs, including emergency contacts and options for insurance coverage;
  • extend guardianship past the age of majority when appropriate; and
  • have access to respite care.

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