Mental health conversations and connections across generations: the role of technology

Mountain Region




Primary Topic:

Health and Well-Being

Other Topics:

Youth and Family Development

Lead Mentor:  

Jennifer Aengst

Regional Health Specialist, Mountain region

Internship Overview:

Mental health has been identified as a key issue across Colorado, yet many programs tend to focus on access to services. For rural communities, technology barriers and stigma are two obstacles to open communication about mental health. This is even more pronounced among the senior population, who grew up in an era when mental health struggles were not discussed. In addition, seniors tend to have less technological competence, making it harder for them to access reliable information about mental health. While the younger generation tends to be more open about their mental health struggles, there remains a generational gap between seniors and youth around mental health and the role of technology. Yet, younger and older generations have successfully assisted each other in navigating health and wellness education information using technology (Portz, Fruhauf, et al, 2019). This internship is an opportunity to create an innovative intergenerational program that will increase mental health awareness, lessen stigma, build technological competence, and create connections across generations.

Mountain counties, such as Gilpin and Chaffee, have a high population of seniors, many of whom are in caregiving roles with their grandchildren. This internship will entail a) researching and evaluating existing intergenerational mental health programs; b) gathering community feedback in Gilpin and Chaffee on mental health perceptions among seniors and youth through interviews and c) developing a draft curriculum that will be used for a pilot program in fall 2023.

The intern will help create an intergenerational mental health program using technology, that will build community connection between youth and seniors. After the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to support programs that build community connectedness and lessen social isolation, which will contribute to the overall well-being of older adults and youth.

Goals, Scope and Objectives:

The goal of this internship is to provide a student the unique opportunity to create an innovative mental health program. A central objective of this internship is to gain practical experience conducting applied research, which will prepare them for a future working on both health issues and community engagement with diverse age groups. An additional objective is for them to gain experience collaborating with community partners through extension. They will increase their knowledge of intergenerational programming, aging, and mental health issues. Furthermore, they will build their research skills through evaluating programs and conducting interviews.

The intern will work remotely with Jennifer Aengst and in-person with community members in both Chaffee and Gilpin counties. Over the course of 10 weeks, the intern will:

1) Evaluate existing intergenerational programs addressing mental health. After reviewing evidence-based programs, they will make recommendations on what elements to include in this new program.
2) Document the views of seniors and youth via interviews on perceptions about mental health. This will help inform the program design of the intergenerational program.
3) Identify tools using technology to improve communication between seniors and youth on mental health issues.
4) Help develop a draft curriculum of an intergenerational mental health program.

With which stakeholder group(s) will the intern work?

Extension agents in Chaffee and Gilpin counties; county commissioners; mental health organizations (Resilience 1220; Ark Valley Helping Hands); and senior centers.

What student learning outcomes do you anticipate and what are the opportunities for professional development?

The intern will: a) learn how to evaluate different models of intergenerational health programs; b) gain experience conducting interviews with seniors and youth in the community about perceptions of mental health; c) develop data collection tools; and d) become more proficient in building their communication skills through applied fieldwork. At the conclusion of the summer, the intern will have gained research and communication skills that are relevant for future work in community development and health, serving both youth and older adults.
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