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The Second, Silent Pandemic: Why YMCA USA Just Partnered with Pop Culture Hero Coalition and the Digital Wellness Lab to Provide Mental Wellness Tools

Unprecedented Coalition is providing free tools to combat depression, anxiety, loneliness, addiction, suicide, and bullying

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The United States has played host to several “national” bullying campaigns, from PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center and STOMP Out Bullying, to organizations such as The Cybersmile Foundation and the U.S. Government’s Stop Bullying

But if we are to face the reality of our times, we must realize that society has failed to recognize the root of these and other lethal issues: an urgent mental health crisis.

Exacerbated by the effects of COVID isolation and losses, mental health issues — including depression, anxiety, self-doubt, shame, addiction, and fear — are skyrocketing. Some research shows that as many as 68% of youth thought they have had or currently have a mental health problem. Even prior to the pandemic, suicide was the second leading cause of death among children and adolescents ages 10 to 19 in the U.S. In 2020, at least 100,000 people died from preventable overdoses: the worst year in recorded history.

A Groundbreaking Partnership

YMCA of the USA has announced a partnership with a mental health and bullying prevention organization, choosing Pop Culture Hero Coalition (PCHC), the first 501(c)(3) to teach mental health and social emotional learning skills using an intersection of evidence-based psychology and relatable stories from TV and film. And as the Strategic Advisor to PCHC, it was extremely exciting to be able to announce and speak with both the YMCA of the USA and PCHC’s Chase Masterson and Carrie Goldman on the news.

Created by psychologists and educators, the Coalition’s groundbreaking Heroic Journey Social Emotional Learning and Bullying Prevention Curriculum is used in schools and now is in a pilot with YMCA of the USA. The Coalition’s Heroic Journey At Home: Mental Health During COVID-19 is an emotional support tool-kit for children, teens, and parents, available free of charge in English, Spanish, German, and Italian on the Coalition’s website.

As part of this new partnership, PCHC will be hosting its first public event with YMCA of the USA and the Boston Children’s Hospital Digital Wellness Lab, Resilience, Empathy, Healthy Screen-time: An Honest Conversation” which will take place Thursday, March 25. 

The event features a line of speakers that couldn’t be more representative of the cause, including YMCA of the USA President and CEO, Kevin Washington; Jameela Jamil (The Good Place, The Misery Index, Founder of I Weigh); Joe Gatto (Impractical Jokers, The Misery Index); Harvard Associate Professor and Founder of Boston Children’s Hospital Digital Wellness Lab Dr. Michael Rich; Dr. Rheeda Walker, author of The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health; Rev. Rob Lee, author of A Sin by ‘Any’ Other Name, Stained Glass Millennials; psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Janina Scarlet, author of Superhero Therapy, Super-Women, Super-Survivors; UCLA Associate Director of Mental Health Training, Intervention, and Response, Dr. Andrea Letamendi; Larissa May, founder #HalfTheStory; and YMCA of Northern Colorado CEO, Dr. Chris Coker; and Carrie Goldman, author of Harper Collins’ award-winning Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the mental health of many people, but especially kids, teens and families,” said Kevin Washington, president and chief executive officer, YMCA of the USA. “Social isolation, virtual learning, societal unrest and general stress and anxiety have all taken a tremendous toll on parents and children alike. We are proud to partner with the Pop Culture Hero Coalition and Boston Children’s Hospital to host this important national conversation. By bringing together celebrity champions of mental health and experts in psychology and youth development, we hope to raise awareness and provide families with tools that can help them recover from this pandemic and thrive once again.”

The Coalition’s founders, Chase Masterson and Carrie Goldman, have spent the past five years developing the groundbreaking Heroic Journey Curriculum for kids ages 5-11 and 12-14, providing tools for today’s generation to healthily navigate the perilous waters the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, as well as offering in-depth mental health and social emotional learning support.

“The Coalition and this event provide relatable tools to turn struggles into strengths, so children, teens, and adults can become heroes for themselves and each other,” Masterson explained. Masterson, who is also known for her work as an actress in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, has spoken about the Coalition’s work at the United Nations HQ, UNESCO HQ, TEDxVienna, Talks at Google, the and the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, as well as on CBS News. 

“The global pandemic has exposed families to unprecedented stress, laying bare the gaping need for emotionally connected childcare,” Goldman told me. Goldman, who also serves as Curriculum Director, has garnered acclaim for her work on bullying and social conflict, including appearances on NPR, MSNBC, CNN, NYTimes, ABC Radio, HuffPost Live, CBS News and her freelance journalism in the New York Times, Washington Post, Child Magazine, Psychology Today, and more. She gives keynote addresses to companies, universities, and schools about bullying prevention, intervention, and reconciliation; digital citizenship; the academic effects of gender inequality; and restorative justice. 

“The Pop Culture Hero Coalition, which has spent the past five years developing a groundbreaking social emotional learning curriculum for kids, is grateful to have the opportunity to step in during this vulnerable time to help YMCA staff teach children how to regulate their emotions, cope with stress, and develop healthy relationships,” added Goldman.

Bringing a key element to this event is Boston Children’s Hospital’s Digital Wellness Lab. We now have two generations, Millennials and Gen-Z, who have become completely immersed in their newest toy, which also has become cyberspace’s biggest weapon: anonymity.

Yes, the ability to remain almost completely anonymous online, has nurtured a mindset that an individual can be anyone and do anything he/she/they want, without consequence. And they aren’t completely wrong. 

Adding to the conversation, Harvard Associate Professor Dr. Michael Rich says that children and adolescents are growing up in a complex, sometimes confusing and always competitive world. “We can, and must, recognize their resilience, nurture their empathy, and hear their voice — the future rests with them.”

Having worked with Pop Culture Hero Coalition for several years, including in the Be Kind campaign, I’ve seen firsthand the impact they make,” Joe Gatto told me. “Broadening the reach of the Coalition’s work with this partnership is a powerful step for the lives of kids and teens. It’s really exciting to see them grow and be able to do so much more good in the world.”

The event is Sponsored by BeKindMerch.org, of which 100% of profits goes to the Coalition’s work to teach mental health and end bullying in all its forms. 

You can join celebrity guests and acclaimed psychologists, experts, and thought leaders on March 25 at 8:30 PM EST live for Resilience, Empathy, Healthy Screen-Time: An Honest Conversation on PCHC’s Facebook page.

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