youth mental health

Northern Colorado YFC Leader Warns Others about Mental Health Decline in Youth

February 20, 2023


Mental Health Studies

A recent CDC report revealed the depths of despair a large percentage of American youth are struggling with. In 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. 22 percent said they seriously considered attempting suicide. Following that, 18 percent said they planned to commit suicide and ten percent said they attempted suicide. With that said, these have all increased from ten years ago.


The rise in depression and isolation in youth can leave many adults unsure of how to help. However, Youth For Christ’s Northern Colorado chapter is utilizing unique strategies to build meaningful relationships with youth in the area by coming alongside teens and providing much-needed love, support, and encouragement.

Being Intentional

Jeff Neel is the executive director of Northern Colorado YFC. “We have been very intentional here at Northern Colorado YFC. We want to show kids that they are valuable for who they are, not what they can achieve,” Neel says. “The majority of the world thinks someone is only valuable if they are good at things like sports, music, or acting, hoping to gain more attention and resources. However, we don’t believe that here. We believe that every kid is valuable. When we shifted our focus in that direction, we brought in a lot of kids who felt rejected by society and struggled with social isolation and mental health issues.


“We identified their need to heal and belong, and decided to seriously start equipping ourselves with the extra training necessary to address these needs. Once we identified that, we started utilizing Trust-Based Relational Intervention. This was done to help adults engage with youth in a way to rebuild the trust that’s been broken with adverse childhood experiences.”

Trust-Based Relational Intervention

Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is an emerging intervention model for a wide range of childhood behavioral problems. TBRI is based on a solid neuropsychological theory and research foundation, tempered by humanitarian principles. It is a community-based intervention that is designed for children who have experienced relationship-based traumas that could be institutionalization, multiple foster placements, maltreatment, and/or neglect.


Neel said, “Once learning about TBRI, we took this and created a curriculum. However, this curriculum utilizes skateboarding, ‘ninja’ obstacle courses, and music to address these issues. After we started this, we saw great results. It worked so well that we wanted a third-party organization to assess our curriculum. With that said, we hired the sociology research lab at the University of Northern Colorado to collect the data, revealing its effectiveness.


“Once we got the results, we went straight to the school districts and showed them the impact our curriculum was having on the youth in our program. They welcomed us in, and we are now directly impacting hundreds of students all throughout our community. We had one principal tell me that he didn’t need to suspend any students who have gone through our curriculum.”


Neel concluded, “The reality is that kids are literally dying from this mental health decline. To me, it is simply malnutrition — not physical, but mental. As a Christian, if I was to see a group of kids and some were starving and I did nothing, how could I say that I cared about children? The same thing applies to mental health as well. If we don’t provide a place for today’s teens to heal and belong, they will mentally starve or look for that elsewhere.”