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Report from the field: new YAM Trainers

Guest bloggers: Amanda Löwemo Nordanhag and Beatrice Johansson, YAM Trainers and Instructors.

In mid July, 2017, the two of us participated in a two-day YAM Trainer workshop in Stockholm. We learned about the YAM programme in depth and how best to train new Instructors. We are very excited and proud to be certified YAM trainers!

At the end of August we participated in our first YAM course as Trainers together with Trainer Anna Johansson and with participants from the Stockholm region. We were happy to see such a wide range of people and ages, which contributed to a fun and interesting week. All of us look forward to working together with the new YAM Instructors in the Stockholm region.

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In October we continued with a YAM course in Luleå with several participants who have a background working with youth as school counselors and nurses. We wrapped up October with a YAM course in Gothenburg. Both courses offered plenty of interesting discussions and fun role plays.

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Our first YAM courses as trainers provided unique opportunities for us to reflect more on our roles as Instructors in schools. As a YAM Trainer you learn about each step of the course and how to communicate the key messages to the prospective Instructors. You get to discuss how to answer questions and concerned voiced by the participants and how to give feedback on their progress in becoming YAM Instructors.

We very much enjoyed the courses in the fall and look forward to the upcoming courses this spring!


What makes a good YAM Instructor?

Recruitment of YAM Instructors largely depends on location and context, but here are some thoughts from us on what makes a good YAM Instructor (in addition to completing the course and having lots and lots of practice in the field). Although the YAM Instructor Course prepares participants, there are several advantages to finding the right persons to partake in the process.

In YAM we view youth as equals and treat them as such – solidarity and empathy with youth are at the crux of YAM’s pedagogy. Relying on a youth driven approach, it is vital that the adults selected to implement the program recognize the significance of this process. YAM offers a non-judgmental atmosphere to explore mental health and relies on the Instructor to help create, model, and maintain a safe space. Instructors should value and treat youth as the real experts on their mental health and make sure that their voices and experiences take centre stage. There are no right or wrong answers, and Instructors should remain as neutral as possible to what comes up for youth: it is the youths’ experiences that are in focus.

A safe learning environment where youth can experience and work through complex situations and emotions is fostered. Speaking freely about sensitive topics with adults is not necessarily effortless or appealing to all youth. It is imperative that YAM Instructors understand this and be able to foster dialogues with youth that are inclusive of their experiences. The Instructor does not dictate how youth should act or respond to any given situation; rather they provide the space for these responses to slowly form and continue to develop.

YAM Instructors should be non-judgmental and allies to all kinds of youth, regardless of their identities and experiences. The Instructor should be able to act as a supporter rather than as a source of information. Additionally, a good Instructor builds trust with those they are working with. The most important characteristic of a good YAM Instructor is having confidence that youth have the capacity to reflect freely and make choices that will benefit their mental health.

You will find some additional information about YAM Instructors here.

New Dallas Instructors

In September, a group of new YAM Instructors were trained by by our Dallas Trainers, Jenny Hughes, Luis Gutierrez, and Amanda Frederick. The course was held at the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern and from what we heard it was filled of discussion and fun role-play moments – and a YAMazing cake too. YAM in Texas is growing as the team gears up to go into more schools all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the year ahead. 



YAM in Australia

We recently completed two weeks of Instructor Courses in Sydney, Australia in collaboration with the Black Dog Institute. YAM is being implemented across multiple schools to Year 9 students in New South Wales as part of the Black Dog LifeSpan initiative. The NSW Department of Education will be in charge of delivery of YAM in public schools and YAM will be delivered to Independent and Catholic schools through the following organizations: headspace local, headspace School Support, and Relationships Australia. Together with Black Dog, we are currently collaborating with local indigenous community members including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and youth professionals and youth to assure that YAM is appropriate and adapted to the Australian context.

The two courses were made up of participants from across New South Wales (and beyond) who work with youth in a variety of capacities. The first Australian YAM Instructors range from professionals working in schools, as counselors, wellbeing advisors or teachers to those working with youth in the community as youth workers, social workers and clinicians. These diverse professional backgrounds lead to two dynamic courses filled with exchange of experiences and opinions. From YAM we had Shirley and Camilla come from New York and Vladimir and Anna from Stockholm. Below are some photos of the two groups. More to follow soon about our ongoing collaboration with Black Dog and implementation of YAM in Australia.

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Data collection in Stockholm schools

Guest blogger: Kemal Demirtas, coordinator of YAM data collection

In late August 2016, we began collecting data in the Stockholm study to continue our quest to better understand how YAM works. Questions include whether YAM increases well-being, improves peer-to-peer relations and the classroom climate, decreases the risk for mental health problems and/or reduces suicidal behavior. To do this, students in year 7 and 8 in secondary schools throughout the Stockholm area took part in a survey. Roughly half the students participated in the YAM program the week after taking the survey, and the other half will participate one year later.

During four months in the fall of 2016, my colleagues and I paid visits to 22 different secondary schools or “högstadier” in and around Stockholm. The survey was conducted with 120 groups of up to thirty students and so far a total of 2224 students have participated. We expect to be able to reach the target of 10,000 recruited students by the end of the project. We carried equipment with us consisting of a laptop, Wi-Fi router and thirty android-tablets. The tablets connect to the laptop (via the router) like any computer would connect to a server. The survey itself looks like any questionnaire on the internet. We ended up in classrooms, auditoriums, cafeterias and once even in an old movie theater.

The students’ participation is voluntary and before having them participate in the survey we would once again tell them that. To start the session we would shortly present our project and what taking the survey would be like opening up for any questions from the students. Each student was then provided with a personalized code that they use to initiate the survey and all their answers are then linked to that specific code. We explained that this way their identity cannot be disclosed to the researchers at Karolinska Institutet. We would encourage the students to lean back, put on headphones if they prefer, and to type away.

The survey takes approximately 60 minutes to complete and involves questions regarding demographics, previous experiences in everyday life, in and outside of school, their mental and physical health, but also questions like what kind of books they read or music they listen to. Most of the students take on the survey like any other educational task. They sit quietly and listen to music while answering the questions, asking for bathroom breaks or permission to pick up their phone to google the name of the author of that novel they love.

It does happen that some students find the survey intrusive. They might question things like why we need to know in which country their parents were born in or if they really have to give away information regarding their sexuality. If this happens, we remind the student that their participation is voluntary and that their answers will never be connected to their names. We tell them that they can feel safe to answer the questions honestly and that they can skip any question they don’t feel like answering. This puts most of them at peace, but in some rare instances students have chosen to stop answering the survey.

First US YAM Trainers

We are happy to announce seven new YAM Trainers, the first in the USA. Amanda Frederick, Luis Gutierrez, Jenny Gorsegner, Jenny Hughes, Tom Shawl, Kathy Shea and Larry Woolf are now certified YAM Trainers!

A YAM Trainer is different from the YAM Instructor who facilitate YAM with youth in the classrooms and beyond. The Trainers are the very important people who make sure that our Instructors-to-be learn about the core of YAM: a safe youth-driven space! The Trainers conduct the YAM Instructor courses and having seven Texas and Montana based Trainers we hope that the program will continue to grow in the US.

Here is a little preview of the training the seven had to go through:
1. Become a certified YAM Instructor by attending a five-day YAM Instructor Course
2. Implement the YAM program in its entirety with groups of youth at least four times
3. Apply to become a YAM Trainer
4. Attend the YAM Trainer Workshop and receive the Trainer manual
5. Work with other prospective YAM Trainers to prepare for the Instructor Course
6. One day of preparation before the Instructor Course
7. Co-teach a YAM Instructor Course with the YAM veterans and receive feedback
8. Celebrate!

We’re happy to say they all made the 8 steps! Here are some photos to prove it.


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YAM courses in Sweden

In the autumn of 2016 we organized our third and fourth Swedish YAM Instructor Course. The first course took place at Karolinska Institutet and we got the chance to spend the week with some enthusiastic participants from Japan, Norway, Austria, Sweden, and the US.


In the second course, twelve participants from Stockholm, Gothenburg, Storuman and Jakobstad, Finland, completed the one week instructor course and became certified YAM Instructors.

The wide range of competence, professional knowledge and cultural backgrounds contributed to very interesting discussions and exchange of experiences in both these courses. Many of the participants from the first course have already gone back to schools in their home countries with some planning larger scale interventions and cultural adaptations ahead. Of the Swedish participants some will lead their first YAM programs in schools in Stockholm in the spring, something we are very much looking forward to! Here are some pictures of soon-to-be YAM instructors learning through play.





Guest blogger: Anna Johansson, YAM Trainer and Instructor

Comparing YAM courses cross-culturally

The last few weeks have been very busy with two consecutive YAM instructor courses. One in Stockholm, Sweden, and one in Bozeman, Mt, USA. The courses went really well and we are happy to have fifteen new instructors in the USA and twelve in Sweden!  

In both courses we had a participants with very different professional backgrounds; this made the discussions dynamic giving many important and distinctive perspectives. Importantly taken together the participants had plenty of experience working with youth in different capacities. We believe that this mix of backgrounds will be very useful when the instructors go into the schools to do YAM with teens.

One topic that often surfaces in our instructor courses relates to cultural adaptation and if YAM needs to be modified depending on the country where it is held. And the very same question is relevant to us when it comes to training YAM instructors across countries. People frequently emphasize cultural differences, but when we compared the experience of training instructors in the USA and Sweden, they weren’t that dissimilar. Of course the individuals present make every course different, but as a whole our experience so far is that training instructors wherever they may be from doesn’t differ very much. This may come as no surprise, but it might tell us something about the “universality” of YAM.

A very real distinction is the environment in which the instructors will put YAM into practice. School systems vary greatly across the world and sometimes within countries, and that is also true for the USA and Sweden. Fortunately YAM is somewhat flexible depending on the context, and we are very confident that the instructors will find the best solution for their local conditions. We are looking forward to hear about their experiences and will keep you posted on the blog.

Guest blogger: Niklas Andersson

YAM in Stockholm

A YAM intervention is currently being planned and put into practice in Stockholm by NASP (the National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health) in collaboration with the Stockholm County Council as funding partner. In the fall of 2016, the implementation of YAM will begin and will continue until the fall of 2018. Schools throughout the county will be selected randomly to either be part of an intervention or a control group. In total, about 10,000 students from grades 7 and 8 will be included in the study.

A YAM instructor training was held in Stockholm in August last year to train the first batch of YAM facilitators. Since October 2015, Marie-Louise Söderberg has been employed as project coordinator to manage and coordinate YAM and together with a process manager, Inga-Lill Ramberg, project assistant, Madeleine Fridlund, and other staff they have worked to prepare the intervention. Pilots of YAM have been conducted in high schools throughout the Stockholm county, working with youth to culturally adapt the content and materials. In addition to the pilots with youth, six of the instructors participated in a workshop to become YAM master trainers, able to train future instructors themselves. Then, finally, last week another instructor course was held in Stockholm. The first-time course instructors Anna Johansson, Madeleine Fridlund and Malena Ivarsson alongside second timer Niklas Andersson greatly enjoyed the experience of passing along YAM to the 12-instructors-to-be.

Guest bloggers:  Madeleine Fridlund and Marie-Louise Söderberg

Our first YAM course in the United States!

We had a wonderful time in Bozeman, Montana and would like to welcome the first North American YAM instructors. All fifteen of them! YAM will be carried out around Montana and in Dallas, Texas in the fall.