By Emily Roberts
WBAY-TV, Channel 2 News
Published: Sep. 22, 2023
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KAUKAUNA, Wis. (WBAY) – An ambitious local project is helping teens tackle depression. Kaukauna High School is one of 22 schools in our area offering “Sources of Strength.”

Project coordinators say resiliency is like a muscle, and they’re trying to build up that strength through 8 protective factors.

The model focuses on improving some key life areas like physical and mental health, positive friends, and generosity.

More than 30% of students reported feeling “sad and hopeless” in 2021, according to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the Wisconsin Department of Instruction. Even more concerning, 18% of students said they seriously considered dying by suicide.

That’s why programs like Sources of Strength are critical right now. Action 2 News sat in on a training session for adult advisors who are running Sources of Strength at Kaukauna High School this year.

“If you’re playing basketball with your friend and they break their leg, you get help, you call 911, you get the coach, you connect them with help. We’re going to create this new social norm that asking for help around mental health is just as important,” project coordinator Wendy Harris said. “We don’t want to ever get to the point of crisis… we know that life can get tough and get overwhelming and when someone’s struggling we want them to ask for help.”

Harris told Action 2 News Sources of Strength is part of New Mental Health Connection’s ‘Healthy Teen Minds’ initiative with a goal of reducing feelings of depression in Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago County teens 20%. The work is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin (AHW) Endowment at the Medical College of Wisconsin with a focus on improving behavioral health.

Students taking advantage of the program report more resilient friendships and stronger connections to adults in schools so they can share mental health concerns.

“I see a lot of students come through Kaukauna High School and as people know music, choir, it’s a place where people share their emotions and we sort of put things out there so I’ve always had a great student/teacher relationship…” Kaukauna High Choir Director Joy Paffenroth explained. “Knowing that this is a safe, comfortable, connected place for them, to be where they can focus on the positives, be there for each other, and know that they have someone to talk to, it’s a huge win for them.”

More data is coming as the program transitions from the control of NEW Mental Health Connection to CESA 6.

“It’s absolutely something that will bring your community together, help kids rise to the challenge and be resilient and it is such a positive positive influence on the entire building,” Paffenroth said.

Harris expressed, “Just like we have traditions and we have the high school football team and the choir and all these really special clubs, I hope Sources becomes a constant and a fixture in schools and something they continue.”

A program in 22 schools in 3 counties is fighting the stigma of talking about mental health and giving kids tools to be more resilient:
Here is a list of schools offering the program:

Cohort 1: (2017-18 school year)

Appleton East, North, and West High Schools; Neenah High School; Oshkosh North & West High Schools

Cohort 2: (2018-19 school year – now in year 4 of implementation)

Little Chute Middle & High Schools; New London High School; Wrightstown High School; Kimberly JRG Middle School: Kaukauna River View Middle School

Cohort 3: (2019-2020 school year)

Chilton High School; Freedom High School; Hilbert High School; New Holstein High School; Winneconne High School

Cohort 4: (2020-21 school year)

Omro High School

Cohort 5: (2021-22 school year)

Brillion High School; Kaukauna High School; Menasha High School; Stockbridge High School

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