216: Best of ME: Teen Mental Health Campaign

This special edition revisits a popular episode of Public Health Review Morning Edition from May 24th. Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, explains the Forward Together campaign; Dr....

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This special edition revisits a popular episode of Public Health Review Morning Edition from May 24th.

Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, explains the Forward Together campaign; Dr. James Bell, State Assistant Administrator for the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, discusses the benefits of being a graduate from the Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health program; and Mike Fraser, CEO for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, tackles the cancer of racism in a new blog article.

Forward Together Webpage

Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health (DELPH) Webpage

ASTHO Blog Article: Excising the Cancer of Racism

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, July 11th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson now, and Encore presentation of one of our most popular episodes of the newscast from the association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


As we approach the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, we're thinking about a campaign in Colorado that helps parents and young people connect on issues like substance abuse and mental health.

Jill Hunsaker Ryan is executive director of the state's department of public health and environment. She explains the Forward Together campaign in today's morning conversation.

Tell us about Colorado's campaign to raise awareness around teen mental health.


Sure. Well, in Colorado, we have a new program—it's called Forward Together. It's an ad campaign we're running for parents and youth ages 12–17, and the goal is to promote connectedness. When young people are connected, they live healthier, more resilient lives. And we also know from a public health perspective, they're less likely to have risky behaviors around smoking, drinking, vaping, engaging in violence or experiencing feelings of depression.

Which makes sense, right? Like, we all want to feel connected. We all want to feel supported. So, we're working with our partners at the Colorado Department of Human Services. And if there are other state public health agencies interested in bringing a connection campaign to their state, our team would be happy to help.

But really, the cornerstone of Forward Together is the youth engagement work. We hire youth advisors and a youth council to create content in informing our campaign work because we want to ensure Colorado teens are hearing from their peers on the issues that matter most. We're also providing grants to local non-profits around the state to bring our campaign off the screen and into local communities.

You know, the campaign is simply about giving parents and teens the tools and resources they need to build strong relationships. And as we said, again, some of these are just really simple tips the parents might not think about. But we really encourage parents to persevere, and that it really will help improve their relationships. You know, it'll show teens healthy ways to cope, supporting their teens through big life decisions. We provide conversation starters and tips to help keep young people safe when they're going online.


What do you like most about the campaign?


You know, I like that it's really simple and it goes on a parent's tuition. I mean, the pandemic has been so disorienting for everyone, and parents just might be at a loss for how to support their teen, and these are just some really simple steps to help parents do that. And that's what I like about it. It doesn't cost anything, they don't need to go anywhere, it's simply using tools that they already have.

And it's encouraging them to persist. You know, even if their teen shuts down, even if their teen isn't as talkative, you know, that the simplest things can mean a lot to a teen: sitting by them when they're watching TV, or asking them about their favorite subjects, or listening to their favorite songs together. It's really simple, but these are ways in which we connect and it's ways to make others feel supported.


And you mentioned earlier that young people are part of the campaign, too?


Yes. So the youth aspect, there's a couple of different aspects. One is that we actually used youth to help us design the campaign, putting them in leadership positions. But the other is, you know, it's important for peers to connect with each other and for parents to support those relationships; because, of course, peers spend a lot of time in school and extracurricular activities.

And so, you want to have support networks built up not only, you know, within the home, but also with peers and also with other caring adults like coaches, like teachers. Really, the more people feel connected, the more stable they feel, the more supported they feel. And during these times of the pandemic where people are out of their routine and there is a lot of uncertainty, that can be very comforting.


There's a link to the campaign website in the show notes.


Just a few days left to sign up for ASTHO's diversity leadership training program known as DELPH.

Dr. James Bell is an assistant administrator with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. He's among the first group of scholars to graduate from the Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health program.


I would say that I'm a lot more confident in my leadership ability.

One of the things I think that attracted me to DELPH from the very beginning was really its role in building up leadership and developing future leaders. And so, in being in those meetings and having conversations with our coaches, it really affirmed me in a way that I say, "Okay, you know what, maybe I do have this." And so, the feelings of being an imposter go out the window and it's like, everything that I've said, you said too. And it really validates my approach to things, the way I think about certain issues, and the way that I approach different strategies.

So, being able to really see myself as a leader has made a significant difference for myself.


And Bell's advice to those still thinking about whether to apply.


So, one is definitely go ahead and apply. The second piece is realizing more and more that our workforce is changing—and it has to—and I think public health is becoming younger, is becoming more diverse. And what better way to set yourself apart than to participate in a fellowship like this where you can be surrounded by like-minded individuals who are looking to advance their career, who are also facing the same complex public health challenges that you are.


The application deadline is May 31st. Get more information using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser tackles the cancer of racism in a new blog article. Writing after the mass shooting in Buffalo, Fraser says society must tell the truth about racism, heal, and then transform itself and its systems.

You can read the full article using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

James Bell DSW

State Assistant Administrator, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

Jill Hunsaker Ryan MPH

Executive Director, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment