JOPLIN, Mo. — The U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory last December to address “the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.” It was specifically related to the COIVD-19 pandemic’s effects on kids, citing that the issue was alarming even before the pandemic began.

A local program has been helping for the past several years.

“This program was a huge deal for me,” said Emily Allen, Former Resident.

As Emily walks through an apartment in Ozark Center’s Pre-Adult Transitional Housing, or “PATH” program, she remembers the time she spent there in 2010 when she was 20 years old.

“I didn’t have a super stable home life and I wanted to kind of be able to keep a job and be able to make my appointments,” she said.

She was battling depression and was left with the task of taking care of family members at home, until a caseworker told her about the apartments.

“Learn kind of how to just take care of myself, have the opportunity to only take care of myself, and, if it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t have gotten my first job at a bank,” Emily said.

“We have 16 apartments here for children ages 17 up to 25, and they can live here, they can get case management services, therapy, medication management, and they can have their mental health treatment all within Will’s Place,” said April Gordon, Will’s Place Assistant Director.

Gordon says residents in the program also learn independent living skills.

“We do group therapy here on the site. We teach them budgeting skills, job interviewing skills, help them with searching for jobs. They learn social skills. And then they can also still go to school while they’re here. They can go to college, and so they help them with researching what career opportunities they would want to do in the future,” Gordon added.

The residents usually build a sense of community and, in a way, help each other succeed.

“I might have had a little bit more of life skills, cleaning, laundry skills, and so I maybe helped someone else. And, then, other people had skills that I didn’t,” Emily said.

“We have people that have gone onto have fairly successful jobs, reduce substance use to staying clean and sober, going through school, graduating,” added Gordon.

For example, Emily is now thriving, married, has a stable job snd she wants to work with her banking peers, as well as use her experience, to give back to the program that did so much for her.

“Budgeting, balancing, any question and answers that these young adults may have that have never had a bank account before, we want to be there to provide for that assistance,” said Emily.

If you know anyone struggling with their mental health and they need someone to talk to, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now a simple three numbers, 9-8-8.

You can call or text and be directly connected with a crisis counselor.