An In-depth Interview with Teton Youth & Family Services: The Rising Mental Health Concern

Source: Teton Youth & Family Services, Facebook

All across the country, including in our lovely Equality State, communities are seeing a rise in mental and behavioral health concerns. Our fast-paced, ever-changing, modern-day life is leaving us with challenges that we don’t know how to face, and families and individuals are feeling overwhelmed and underequipped.

The good news is that thoughtful and understanding organizations and community members are seeing this growing need for support and services and finding ways to step up to the plate. One such nonprofit is Teton Youth & Family Services (TYFS), located in Jackson Hole but serving Lincoln, Sublette, and Teton Counties and troubled adolescent males across the state.

Over the past few years, TYFS has updated its programming, increased its staff, and renovated its 3 facilities to continue providing enough of the right kind of mental and behavioral health services children and teens need today, as well as up-to-date prevention-focused residential treatment and care. The Hughes Charitable Foundation reached out to TYFS Executive Director Sarah Cavallaro to learn a little more about the rising health concern and to hear more about what TYFS can do to help.

Source: Teton Youth & Family Services, Facebook

How does mental health impact our lives?

Mental health impacts our lives every day, from employee productivity to family dynamics. The state of mind we bring with us impacts all facets of our lives. Many individuals struggle to overcome challenges that appear too big or situations that seem too complicated, and that is why mental health help is available.

From suicide to substance abuse to child maltreatment – the impacts of poor mental health are far-reaching.

  • 30% of female high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021, up from 19% a decade ago
  • Based on data from usage of its Mental Health America Online Screening program by youth ages 11–17:
    • 628% increase in clinically validated mental health online screenings between 2019 and 2020
    • 84% of youth showed symptoms of moderate-to-severe anxiety, and gay, lesbian, or bisexual students were three times as likely to have considered suicide than heterosexual students
    • 43.3% of youth had a major depressive episode and received mental health treatment
  • Today, most youth (70%) report their ability to cope with challenges as medium to very low. Additionally, while 1 in 5 children have a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, only about 20% receive care from a specialized mental health care provider. When we compound the challenges children are already facing with the growing environmental stressors around them, the need for accessible and impactful services is clear. In the past year alone, we have seen a 40% increase in demand for our programs and services at Teton Youth & Family Services.

Why is it important to have an awareness month for recognizing mental health and its effects?

Mental Health America started Mental Health Month in 1949 to promote awareness, offer resources and education, and advocate for the well-being of everyone each May. Half of Americans meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their lives, with symptoms starting by age 14 for most people.

At TYFS, we help individuals with mental health struggles every day. From a parent who is navigating the loss of a spouse and raising children alone to a child who has lived a life of trauma and is now in crisis – we dedicate our work to helping children and their caregivers realize a path forward that is calmer, connected, and hopeful.

To fully understand how the world around us affects our mental health, it is important to recognize what factors are at play, some of which an individual can change (such as screen time), and others may be outside of their control (like current events in a person’s life or access to basic resources).

Navigating the uncertainty in the world and what the future holds can feel overwhelming. Mental Health Awareness Month works to end isolation and hopelessness by providing elevated opportunities to participate in programs, services, or events that are designed to help people get a jump start on overcoming these challenges. Additionally, the Month of May is a time for us to reflect on how we are taking care of the others in our community, and to further destigmatize the act of getting help for your mental health when needed.

How can people combat poor mental health?

“Get a checkup from the neck up.” In other words, utilize a mental health screening tool such as or

Build a toolbox of actions you can take when you are feeling hardship or stress. Some ideas could include:

  • Check for HALT. Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? These are four common feelings that can lead to poor mental health. Take action on what you can control, such as ensuring you get enough food or sleep or finding time to connect with others.
  • Develop affirmations to support yourself. For example, if you feel scared, say to yourself, “I believe in myself. My fear does not control me. I am safe.”
  • Create a gratitude list reflecting on things for which you are thankful. This simple action can change your whole outlook and perspective.
  • Vent. Venting is not the same as asking for help. It is an opportunity to share your feelings out loud with someone you trust. Connection to others is a key tool for combating loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
  • Do something for someone else. Stepping outside of our own reality and helping another person in need is a tool for changing our mindsets and looking outside of ourselves.
  • Exercise. From restorative yoga to a 50-mile bike ride, exercise gets our dopamine pumping and helps keep our brains and bodies healthy. Often, doing something active releases enough physical energy to better process the mental struggles that may be bothering us.

How can we help support others in working with their own mental health?

Help them connect with community resources, such as TYFS or the Mental Health Services of Jackson Hole.

Think about who you interact with regularly who would find information on mental health useful for themselves or others

Share your own story. Sharing your own story about mental health gives others a safe space to share, connect, and understand as well.

Who does Teton Youth & Family Services organization serve?

We serve youth from birth to 18 and their parents or caregivers with a continuum of services to meet the needs of each family.

What kinds of resources or services does TYFS have to help people deal with their mental health?

Teton Youth & Family Services has been a part of the Wyoming community for more than 45 years. Through leadership camps and prevention work, to crisis intervention and emergency support, we have directly changed the trajectory of thousands of suffering children and families, leading to a more resilient community.

The Hirschfield Center for Children seeks to help children avoid behavioral, emotional, and mental health problems by strengthening families and working to prevent child abuse and neglect. Programming and resources include:

Forensic Interviewing is available with a multidisciplinary team investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect.
The Family Advocate Project helps families at risk of child abuse or neglect to stabilize and gain control of their lives again.
The Court Diversion Program services provide various interventions for juveniles detained by law enforcement, including diversion from the Circuit Court for first-time offenders and probation services for youth involved with the Circuit Court.

The Van Vleck House opened in 1977 to provide prevention, early intervention, and treatment programs for Teton County youth. In 1986, it added the Group Home and Crisis Shelter to meet expanded community needs for intervention and treatment services.

The Jackson Hole Leadership Program is a summer program open to all Teton County children grades 5–10 that teaches outdoor and problem-solving skills, positive relationships, and effective communication.
Day Treatment and Education provides a setting for youth who are unable to attend school in a traditional school setting due to expulsion, suspension, or mental health challenges where the student cannot regulate to remain in the classroom. This programming works with students for half the day on academics and half the day on social-emotional skill building, with the ultimate goal of returning to the mainstream school setting.
The Crisis Shelter provides voluntary, structured, therapeutic placements for up to 30 days for youth in crisis ages 10–18. It provides a safe space, identifies areas of concern, and makes referrals to meet the child's and family's needs.
The Group Home provides court-ordered and private placement for youth ages 10–18 who need an out-of-home therapeutic environment. During placement, residents complete a structured treatment program for approximately 6-8 months.

Red Top Meadows is a 14-bed residential treatment and therapeutic wilderness program established in 1980 to serve adolescent males. The facility is located on 20 acres bordering the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The Residential Treatment Program is a logical step when the child is not able to function in their home and school environments. This care center provides a helpful transition between old negative cycles of behavior and developing healthier, more productive ways of dealing with difficulties.
Therapeutic Wilderness Experiences have been part of Red Top programming since 1982. The combination of the wilderness environment, adventure, community, and teamwork in the mountains provides opportunities for learning and personal growth.

Source: Teton Youth & Family Services, Facebook