A young person helps to set up a tent

In every community, there are people working to prevent addiction disorders and mental health issues from happening in the first place. In Pennsylvania, advocacy for that work comes from the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance. Their message? That anyone can make a difference. Anyone.

You don’t need to be a prevention professional to make a big impact on the young people in your world. Although good prevention can take the form of speaking to elected officials or teaching life skills to classrooms full of students, it can also be done every day in simple ways by people just like you. How do you start? By connecting.

Whether you’re a caregiver, grandparent, teacher, or neighbor, your relationship with kids and teens has a powerful impact on them. When young people feel bonded to their families, schools, and communities, they’re more motivated to practice healthy behaviors such as avoiding alcohol and other drugs.

The result is a child who feels a close connection and a sense of pride, and who is more likely to follow the norms of that family, school, or community.

“No matter your role in the life of a young person, you have the potential to be a prevention hero.”

If you have close contact with a young person, it’s important that you talk early and often about important issues such as drug and alcohol use and mental health issues. It’s normal to feel intimidated by such conversations! What do you say? Will it be awkward? You aren’t an expert on these topics! You may not be able to immediately answer every question, and it likely will be awkward at times—that’s okay. Research shows that short, regular discussions to keep a child safe are effective.

In addition, Commonwealth Prevention Alliance is here to help. Their PA Start website is packed with effective communication strategies, toolkits, tips, and facts to help you along. Topics include alcohol, vaping, mental health, and marijuana, as well as strategies for parents and caregivers of Black, LatinX, white, and LGBTQ+ youth to help protect their children against systemic harms.

No matter your role in the life of a young person, you have the potential to be a prevention hero—someone who knows and uses their name, asks how they’re doing and really listens, validates their experiences, and helps to prepare them for life’s ups and downs. Anyone can make a difference. Anyone.

About the Expert

Jeff Hanley serves as the Executive Director of the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance, a statewide nonprofit that supports prevention professionals in reducing substance misuse and risk related behaviors. After graduating from the University of Mount Union (Ohio), Jeff began working in the nonprofit sector with the American Red Cross. After the Red Cross, he spent 14 years, at the Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission, as a prevention specialist and supervisor. Jeff and his wife Carrie (Director, Healthcare-Associated Infection Prevention Division at the PA Department of Health) reside in State College, PA.

This post was originally published by WGAL TV 8 on www.wgal.com and sponsored by Donegal Insurance Group as part of the Mental Health Moment campaign. We thank WGAL TV 8 and Donegal Insurance Group for their support of prevention and mental wellbeing in our region.