Welcome to the 5 Things Digest from the NTTAC Youth and Young Adult Transformation Team, bringing you 5 Things to know right now about youth engagement in mental health in the time of COVID-19.
#1: Engage youth in virtual spaces.
Technology is a resource that helps engage youth when we are not able to interact face-to-face. Whether it is over social media or through other mediums, using virtual platforms can break down barriers that make it difficult for youth to participate under normal circumstances, such as transportation challenges, scheduling conflicts, or the unique challenges we’ve seen during this pandemic.
COVID-19 has challenged us to work and communicate in new ways. During this pandemic, there has been a shift to supporting and meeting with youth in virtual spaces, telehealth becoming more common, and our professional development transferring online. Embracing technology lets us continue to meet and work with youth in our mental health change work. Many of the same best practices apply in the virtual world as they do the real world: meet youth where they are at, follow-up is key, and everyone’s needs are unique. It is important to find ways to navigate any technological barriers that may occur, whether it is access or education. Try to emulate your in-person practices in virtual spaces as much as possible.
There are a host of creative ideas to facilitate engagement with youth online including talent shows, peer support groups, award shows, open mics, youth festivals, open office hours, and drop-in space.
Ways to navigate social media and other virtual platforms to optimize youth engagement
Idea pools for effective ways to think about engaging youth online
#2: Choose a platform to fit your purpose.
As we continue to adapt to a more virtual world, it is important to choose platforms with purpose. If you want to create a Facebook group to share resources, announcements, and other important information, make sure that your network and youth are interested in using that platform. Gather feedback from those in your groups to determine the best ways to communicate with each other. Maybe instead of using Zoom for meetings, your group would prefer Google Meet. Selecting platforms youth members are already on sets you up for success.
New apps are popping up all the time, so taking some time to learn about different platforms may create new opportunities for your program to exist in virtual spaces. While we may have to suspend certain types of in-person meetings, apps like Discord or Slack help create chat spaces that can work as a place to drop-in. You can use apps like Remind to continue to keep everyone you know in the loop about what you are up to!
App guide written by Youth MOVE National to find the best apps to use in different settings

Tips to help create effective meetings in virtual spaces
#3: Don’t forget analog.
While we are all finding ways to be creative in virtual spaces, it is important that we still have some ability to do things in the physical world. Depending on your location and local ordinances, the comfort of engaged participants, and organizational resources, you can still find ways to engage youth “the old way.” If it is not possible to create physical meeting spaces through social distancing, you can still facilitate 1-on-1 interactions in other ways.
Within your organization, it may seem like we should shift all of our energy to virtual engagement, but creating swag to send in the mail, writing letters, and dropping off care packages can make a difference in retaining connection with youth and young adults.
Resource sharing the power that physical letters can have on an individual

List of resources that can be adapted to both online and offline environments
#4: Adapt youth engagement practices during the pandemic.
As we navigate the challenges to transitioning to virtual youth engagement, new opportunities for engaging youth also exist. Virtual support provides the option to engage youth who may otherwise have difficulty meeting in person. At a time when young people have lost many social connections, the ability to engage and support plays an important role in supporting mental wellness during the pandemic. Think about your current youth engagement practices, and ask if they include the following:

  • A youth engagement philosophy that meets youth where they are at.
  • Allocation of funding specific to youth and young adults' ability to engage right now.
  • Reduced barriers to participation in youth engagement and advisory activities.
  • Continued trauma-informed practices in virtual spaces.
  • Emulating familiar programming.
Engagement principles for engaging youth to help facilitate ideas both online and offline
Strategies and brainstorming ideas for outreach, engagement, and participation
#5: Your self-care affects how you engage youth.
An important consideration when engaging youth is your own self-care. Compassion fatigue and burnout is an all too common theme when working in mental health and youth-serving systems, and as everyone deals with the additive stress of COVID-19, it is even more important to take care of yourself. Creating a self-care plan for yourself can be an essential part of being an effective advocate for youth mental health.
Many are experiencing fatigue in virtual spaces at the moment. Isolation from being at home and being in front of a screen the entire day can be exhausting. There are many ways to think about self-care through a variety of self-care mapping techniques such as wellness worksheets, action plan apps, and self-expression exercises.
Bringing self-care practices into our virtual workspace with youth leaders is important as well. Crafting COVID-19-specific self-care plans and practices together is a great group activity.
A guide to help look at the different aspects of well-being to reflect on self-care
Guide created for youth and community workers to approach meaningful self-care
Contact the National Training and Technical Assistance Center for
Child, Youth, and Family Mental Health
Toll-Free: (888) 945-9377  Email:
Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and content expressed in this email do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).