A Comprehensive Online Health and Wellness Resource for Teens and Young Adults
I had the pleasure of spending a Friday afternoon discussing TeenLinkHawaii, a web-based health information resource, with two bright and friendly college students, Mari Nishiguchi and Miranda Eddins. Mari is currently studying Accounting & Information Systems and Miranda is studying Physiological Science & Global Studies. They graciously agreed to share a bit more about how TeenLink Hawaii partners with youth and young adults to develop tools that are responsive to the needs of young people and promote empowerment by sharing accessible and comprehensive resources that promote a holistic understanding of health. I am grateful to both leaders for sharing their time and expertise with us!
Anna: Can you tell me a little bit about what TeenLinkHawaii is and what’s included in the health and wellness toolkit specifically?
Miranda: Teen Link Hawaii (TLH) is a program under the Coalition for a Drug- Free Hawaii and it focuses on youth empowerment and education. We provide resources for Hawaii’s teens and young adults that span a wide range of materials and topics and we provide youth leadership opportunities, peer to peer outreach, prevention presentations and campaigns, and what we primarily do is social media and website informative outreach so that’s me and Mari’s main role and job. The topics we share on social media and the website include things on practically any youth or teen issue like school or college, COVID-19, healthcare, mental health and physical wellness. One of the features we have on our website is the health and wellness toolkit, and this feature of our website is pretty much like a one-stop-shop for all of our resources. It includes highlights of each of our different materials including informative videos, Instagram graphics, Tik Toks, infographics, flyers, and website links to resources, and it’s really just a great place to start if you’re interested in seeing what TLH does as a whole and don’t know exactly what topic or what type of resource you’re in search of. You can just go there and it has a pretty compact and comprehensive list of everything we do.
“In formal education, there isn’t really an emphasis on topics like mental health, sexuality, physical wellness, and health care, yet these topics play a huge role in the daily lives of teens and young adults. TLH wants to be a source of help for this vital information.”
Anna: I’ve checked out the website and the toolkit and I was particularly impressed by the range of health topics and all of the accompanying graphics for use on social media. How do you envision this resource raising awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing of young people in Hawaii?
Mari: The resources that TLH shares covers essential personal life and real-world topics that aren’t really taught in school. In formal education, there isn’t really an emphasis on topics like mental health, sexuality, physical wellness, and health care, yet these topics play a huge role in the daily lives of teens and young adults. TLH wants to be a source of help for this vital information. We envision TLH as a resource to make teens more comfortable with these foreign and sometimes uncomfortable topics. Increasing knowledge and awareness about mental and physical health is crucial in ensuring the wellbeing of teens and young adults. Resources on sleep, mindfulness, self-care, nutrition, exercise, and much more were recently added because teens and young adults have voiced concerns in these areas and wanted more information to help themselves and their friends.
Anna: So you both identified a gap in your formal education and decided to fill that gap with TLH – I love that. How has the Hawai’i Department of Health become involved in this partnership? Many of our readers are with the Department of Health in their jurisdictions and might be wondering how they could support a similar effort in their settings.
Miranda: First and foremost, just relating back to the last question, the Department of Health has helped TeenLink Hawaii expand our outreach by helping us create and disseminate surveys so we can gather teen voices and concerns to inform the resources we’re putting out. From recent surveys, teens expressed concerns about self-care, mental health, sleep, eating habits, bullying, grades, exercise, and social media. We’re so grateful for the Hawaii Department of Health’s Maternal and Child Health Branch and Children with Special Health Needs Branch who are great supporters of TLH. They’ve provided funding opportunities for TLH to expand and gain more exposure so that we can reach more teens and young adults and even parents and families. Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii and Hawaii Youth Services Network have been a longtime foundation for TLH for over 20 years so it’s great to have the Hawaii Department of Health’s partnership and support so that TLH can have a greater impact sharing health and wellness prevention information, empowering teens to take charge of their health, and bringing together a network of local and national resources for Hawaii’s teens. I would say this requires a lot of outreach, so the DOH funding and the opportunities such as speaking at certain conferences and collaboration meetings really helps us get our website, our social media, and our resources out there. So, primarily funding and advertisement of the resources are two of the great things they do and how they support us.
Anna: That’s wonderful, it’s great to hear that the Department of Health has been a valuable partner to provide TLH with the support necessary to make this vision you all had a reality. I know you both have played a leading role in conceptualizing TLH, understanding what your peers really want to know, and then promoting it. How have young people been involved in the creation and ongoing maintenance of TLH resources?
Mari: Miranda and I started as Program Assistants while we were in high school and now we’re both in college. As young adults, we feel like we connect more personally with our target audience and can better advise and drive the course of TLH. And because of this, we generally know what topics are of most interest to people of our age range – things like mental health, learning how to manage your own health, etc. – which allows us to focus much of research and information dissemination on these subjects. We’re also more knowledgeable about which mediums of outreach, such as social media and Instagram, are best suited for teens and young adults and what will grab their attention.
Aside from the two of us, there are many young people who are involved in the creation and ongoing maintenance of TLH resources. TLH has young adult interns and staff as well as high school students who assist with creating Instagram posts, make website suggestions based on what topics they think would be helpful, and gather valuable feedback and information from their peers. Additionally, we conduct surveys that are being sent to young people to gauge their concerns, questions, and topics of interest, and then the responses to the surveys are used heavily to guide what we do as a program.
Anna: It’s really wonderful that you all are being intentional about continuing to engage your peers in content creation and maintenance of the TLH resource, and I think your efforts to regularly survey young people to make sure TLH is covering topics they really want to know about is so important. How do you promote and share this resource with those you hope to reach?
Miranda: Our website and Instagram presence that we talked about a little bit are our largest forms of sharing our resources. Our online resources can be found on our website, which is www.teenlinkhawaii.org and our social media resources can be found on our Instagram and TikTok which are both at @teenlinkhawaii. Those are our two main points of outreach and the mediums we think teens will be attracted to the most and what we think will be the most beneficial in terms of just getting information out there quickly and efficiently. We get a lot of promotion on our social media via other community accounts in Hawaii, who share our posts and do mutual sharing of information between accounts, which we really appreciate. Our social media partnerships, as you could call them, with other organizations are a great way for all of our programs to share information on a greater scale. A lot of other Hawaii-based community Instagram accounts will promote our posts and we promote theirs. We also promote our website and health and wellness toolkit primarily through presentations at school or community events, and to other community youth leaders at various conferences and during interviews like this one. We also do advertisements such as 30-second commercials that have aired on local cable television by the Department of Health – so that’s another way they help us – as well as just word of mouth opportunities. We have a lot of different ways to draw teens and young adults to our website and social media, but we are open and eager to expand our outreach and have more people utilize our TeenLink Hawaii resources.
Anna: I’ve never heard of the term social media partnership, but I might have to borrow that! We know that’s an important partnership to have given how impactful social media is and the growing source of information it is, particularly for young people. Could you share a little bit about the impact TLH has had so far on young people? What stories are you hearing about how this resource is supporting the mental health and well-being of young people in Hawai’i?
Mari: So far, we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on our website and social media. Aside from our health and wellness toolkit, which I would say is our most popular resource, I’d say our self-care page seems to be quite popular. We include many different approaches to self-care and teens have shared with us their appreciation for the variety of avenues available on that page. Self-care can be something that is overlooked, so we really wanted to bring awareness to this topic and provide all kinds of resources to make it easy for teens to incorporate the self-care practices into their lifestyle. Teens have shared their excitement about the positive impact that it’s been making on their mental health.
An aside: This is the point in our conversation when I asked Mari and Miranda what their favorite forms of self-care are; Mari shared that she really likes practicing box breathing and Miranda shared that her favorites include taking walks and getting enough sleep. Check out TLH’s self-care page.
Anna: What advice do you have for other state health department programs that might be interested in developing a resource like this in their state or community?
Miranda: I would say get support from the Department of Health in terms of helping to build a program like this and having backing and constant support for the advertising, marketing, and outreach pieces, which is great. The second thing I would suggest is to definitely lead it with young adults at the forefront and at the mind; if you can get young adults like Mari and I to head that program or to do the bulk of what we do, that would be great because, like Mari talked about, we have a little bit more of a grasp on the issues teens care and want to know about. And doing surveys to gather information directly from young people on topics they want to know about. I think that’s definitely something that is very important – to not just go at it from an adult point of view but take it from the youth and let the youth build it up. And then, I think the third piece of advice I’d have is something that TLH is trying to expand more on, but I think we want to get more into schools and more into education, or just have a resource that can be promoted to the Department of Education to have it shared in schools more. I think it’s great because schools are where teens are obviously congregating most, learning the most, and getting a lot of their information so I think if you could start advertising or sharing this resource or similar resources through all the schools, it could be very impactful and that’s something we’re definitely trying to do here at TLH.
Anna: Three great pieces of advice – partnering with the health department, centering young people in the creation and design, and partnering with the Department of Education to get the resources into schools. I appreciate you sharing that advice. I’m sure our readers are going to appreciate it too. What else would you like our blog readers to know about TLH?
Mari: If you’re a youth leader or adult with connections to youth, please let them know about TeenLink Hawaii and our website and our social media. We’d love to be connected to more youth directly and to get this information out on a greater scale. We would also love feedback, comments, suggestions, anything you might have, any kind of input. If you do have anything to share, please DM us on Instagram at @teenlinkhawaii or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Follow TeenLinkHawaii on TikTok and Instagram: @TeenLinkHawaii
Reach out to the great minds behind TLH: email@example.com
Check out the TeenLinkHawaii Resource: https://www.teenlinkhawaii.org/
Check out TLH’s Health and Wellness Toolkit: https://www.teenlinkhawaii.org/wellness-resource-toolkit