Netsmart CareThreads
Netsmart CareThreads

Episode · 6 months ago

Sparking Conversations Around Teen Behavioral Health


Comic books have been popular with teenagers for generations. Hoping to both educate and entertain teenagers, Centerstone, a Tennessee-based behavior health provider, developed a comic book series featuring a variety of important topics.

Ashleigh Hall, Grants Marketing Manager at Centerstone, joined Keith Boushee on this episode of Netsmart CareThreads to talk about how her team created a series of comic books to successfully deliver mental health messages to teens.

After receiving a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS), Centerstone decided to lay the foundation for bringing Spark, the main character, to life. They hired illustrators who specialize in comic books to bring the series to life. Spark tackles controversial topics in the series including:

- Sex messaging

- Bullying

- Under-age drinking

- Opioid issues

- Depression

- Online safety

Since launching the series in 2014, over 60,000 books have been distributed. By including discussion prompts at the end of each book, the books can be used in a classroom setting. Centerstone hopes to bridge the gap between parents and children as well as show these issues can affect everyone, everywhere. The series has also been popular in schools with many counselors and principals helping to distribute the comics.

In partnership with Centerstone, we are giving away 50 sets of the six-book series. Go to and enter to receive free comic books!

This discussion with Ashleigh Hall was taken from our show Netsmart CareThreads. If you want to hear more episodes like this one, search Netsmart CareThreads on Apple Podcast.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for CareThreads in your favorite podcast player.

Welcomed in thet, smart care, threads,a podcast were human services and post ocute leaders across the healthcarecontinuum come together to discuss industry trends, challenges andopportunities. Listen is we uncover real stories about how to innovate andimprove the quality of care for the communities we serve? Let's get intothe show. My name is Keith Bruchet and I'm your host. I serve as a communitystrategist at that smart on the podcast. We're talking about some of the issuesaffecting teens today and a unique way. One Organization is using media tocommunicate their message to talk with me about this. I'm excited to bespeaking with Ashley Hall Grants, Marketing Manager joining us today fromcenterstone and not for profit health system providing mental health andsubstance. US dissorter treatments nationally through the operation ofoutpatient clinics, residential programs and impatient hospital andto.The use of Tehoth Ashley. Welcome to the program. I I'm happy to be here: m excitedfantastic. Some things, never go out of style, no mattof your age. One of thosethings is comic books. I've been a fan since I was ten or eleven and fulldisclosure, I'm wearing a night wing tshirt. Under my button down it's mysons. I asked to Borrowt for this. This sounds like an awesome way to reachaudiences of all ages, but especially a younger population. Yes, we think soit's sinterstone. Something we like to do is something we call edge attainment.We love to educate these youth while entertaining them. A big thing isreally meeting kids teams, you, where they are, you have to go to them. Theymight not also always come to you and they might not always respond to somebig lecture, but if you can kind of find your way into something they'realready doing to educate them, while they're entertaining that seems toreally help reach them. So in this case, going to them in theformer comic books, hes just been really important and fine yeah you gotto find a way in, and comic book seem seems to be a great way to do that andfun absolutely fun. How did you come up with the idea for the comics? Well, I lont to tell this story: it'sreally neat, so my colleague you know several years agonamed Ian and I were a conference and sinterstone had a booth there. So wewere sitting at the booth doing our thing talking about our services andwhat we had to offer and he took a break and was like I'm going to go,walk around and see what the other boots havf and then he comes back witha big smile on his face holding up a graphic novel. It was a martly, vucane,junior, graphic novel. He runs up to me and he's like actually Ashl Ashley andI'm like what what what and he said do you think we could do comic books related around Tean riskybehaviors and we were always trying to think of creative ways to reach kids atthe time and he was a Super Che's, a Super Cretive guy and and I kind ofthought for a minute. We started Beng Okind of talking about it, not the ideaand raiinstorming, and he and we were like you know I think we can in so Icalled my supervisor, and I said you know what I know: We've got some moneyin the budget for some projects. Do you think it could be utilized for comicbooks and she said Yeah go for it and from you know, thereon we started youknow figuring out, they had to do it. It was all born. You know right therethat you know the sinterstone booth ad at a conference that must have beenexciting to come up with some new idea and now well have a good idea that ithad never been really done before in the marketplace and to be able to bringsomething fun into work and, like you...

...said, meet kids where they are yeah. OhYeah Super Fun. That was definitely the birth of. Probably my you know mthe highlight of my career. So far, so yeah big foot was Ian or were you acomic book fan growing up full disclosure? No, I learned more aboutcomic books during this experience that I had ever known. Enwes was a bit heknew way more and fortunately we had AAnother person on centersone staff,orgraphic designer Mike Our sinter sygraphic desire Mike, and he was a bigcomic Book Fan, so we were able to kind of pull from other people's knowledge.You know, you know, I love wonder woman and that sort of thing, but I did, Icertainly didn't, have deep comment with Nollege and Mike Draws drows allthe conics. No No Mik is sinner, sill graphic designer and we actually wereable to hire actual comic book artists Ban Hat specialized in that for thecommon books great. So every superhero has an origin story. How did you arriveat spark and Ho chosen? Well, you know after that conference we, you know, gotback to the office and we're like okay. What do we do next a said? Well, weneed to kind of think of some ideas, just kind of sea, a just have a branstory meeting exactly and so what we did is and myself and Mike Oursinnerstone housecraft lic designer at because we new Mike El have lots ofgreat common book information. So we went into that meeting and my firstrequest was, with the Superhero, be a girl. I'm like I want her to be a girl.So it's like it's going to be a girl, sowe did that and they were like. Okay and like we don't have enough girlssuperheroes and then I said I wanter to be relatable. I Wante her to be a teangirl that is a Norraltean girl facing all the pressures and risky behaviortemptation during the day, and then I wanted to also be a really awesome.Superhero on the side. You know: That's that's kind of you K, ow. What I wantedher to have. I wanted to have this typical, O tain issues, and so we kindof started with that. You know: Okay, we're going to have a typical team girl,she's gonna, look like Adifpicul team girl, that sort of thing and then my anan had all kinds of fun coming up with okay. What kind of powers is she goingto have what she gonna do you know, and so they came up with a wonderfulstory about how she has this Amulat and there's this. I gives her this powerthat has this eletric force and she inherited it from her mother and hermother died, and she, you know, got it and all this you know this wonderfulbackstory that they had a lot of fun making. So you know, after that you know. I kind of told Ouo N was osuper creative writer guy and said: okay, okay and there's you thing goride it. I like how the backstory isn't you know? The first comic has a lot ofthe back story, but it's not all just dumpked rate in that first one andother comics, you get little pieces hrract of the backstory and her camefrom that's Gras lately so before diving in and making the investment intime and money, I'm guessing, you must have had some idea. If this would beeffective, can you talk about some of the steps, the prework you did tovalidate or sure? So you know we had that innitinal meeting that I justtalked about, but you know rigt around that same time. You know. Within a fewweeks we had the opportunity to go into a classroom.You sinnerstone has a lot of work in school classrooms and we were able topartner with one of our prevention teams. You know on of our prevention,GRANAT teams and go into a classroom. They were working in and in a middleschool and we talkd to the kids. We said you know what do you think aboutthis? Do you guys, like comic books, and of course they all said? Yes- andwe said you know, we took them, we went...

...and bought some comic books and we tookthem kind of samples, and we said what kind of paper do you like? What do youlike the superheroes? So to look like? What do you want? The drawing to looklike what kind of topics do you think would be good, because something thatwe really really wanted was we wanted this comic book to look like somethingthat they would pick up off of a shelf and read anyway? I didn't want it to besome cheesy. I don't know I didn't want to look too educational. I didn't wantthe kinds to read it as Che Cheesy, your think it was jeesy. I wanted t tto look like something they would pick up anyway. So we did a lot of kind ofresearch on ways to make sure it looked exactly like a quote: Unquote: RealComic Book, and when talking with the kids, we said, okay, what topic shouldwe start off with, and they were all at that time? Super Interested and mediaand phones and the way kids are getting in trouble with their phones, ind doingirresponsible risky things with their phones. So that's how we landed on thefirst topic of you know: Sex Messaging and then the next step after Thas, weactually were able to go to Nashville's, comicon and kind of talkto graphic artists and find our first comic Bot pardings right. There foundone that we thought had a heard for what we were doing and pickim fantastic.So you had a focus group with the audience of people. You were trying toreach right, correct, correct. We went straight to the kids right. I know thatin previous discussions you mentioned that some of the funding came from agrant. Can you tell us about the Gran Yeah Center Son has been just so luckyand fortunate for the past fash a little over ten years now to havefunding from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of PublicAffairs and we're currently in our third round of this funding, and it'sfocused towards team prennancy prevention and associated riskybehaviors, and they have been able to fund the comic books. You know thatgrant has funded the comic books and allowed us to. You know, get creativewith that education. It's that feneal grant's been such a blessing for us,that's great and that's a unique way to make use of the grant. Ihaven't heard of folk husing federal grants for Comic Book. Socongratulations on that yeah yeah! It's just you know it's a small part of whatthat Co. That grant does and S it's ee, wonderful, fantastic! There's, sixtotal comic books now right, correct and I've read all six. Some of thetopics would have been relevant when I was a teenager long ago, back in thelates and earlys o with them deal with technology that wasn't Aron back then.Can you touch on each of the comics and the mental health topics that arerevant to teas today that are covered absolutely? This is the first comicbook. It is spark and the Sixh message that nearly dedroys her. So this is thefirst one that came from that feedback group. It has our origin story in it.wheres in she also finds herself fighting sex messaging after herboyfriend convinces her to send him a photo. So at the very beginning youknow we're showing that she is an amazing superhero, but she is also veryyou know very vulnerable to all the sang riskye behaviors that kids todayface so sparkin the six message on theNelyastro and then for the second comic book. We took a breakan spark becausewe wanted to be able to kind of reach a little bityounger Han our audience and in this one we've got some bullying that occursinto in a school for superheroes. So that's kind of you know interesting and kind of good to see how superhuros dealwith bullying, because even they get welad sometimes- and here is our third comic book sparkand Soberin Truth, and this one spark...

...finds herself at a party withalcoholissues, and she has to figure out how to handle that, and she alsodiscovers that a lot of times when you use alcohol, you make decisions thatmight not be so safe, so she's able to kind of tackle that and maybe save theday, there's a twist at the end of that one, I'm not going to reveal it. I knowI didn't want to reveal it. I, like I gotta, leave some stuff to like youknow I finture Givin away and here is spark cut in the net and this one'sreally neat. We were able to partner with sinner Sones, Foster Care ServicesDepartment for this one, and so the story is focused around a girl who wasin foster hair and she finds herself. You know caught in a situation withsomeone that she met online and it's not so safe and spark has to kind ofcome in and and help that situation out, because we all know you know peoplearen't necessarily what they seen or what they you know, make themselves outto be online, so on ly fifty and then we have spark and the dangerous switch, and inthis one spark fights the Obioygat epidemic and OPIA WIGMIS use we diveinto a legal drug manufacturing and how you never know what you cin you'regoing to get you don't know what those pills to be tainted with and that it'sso dangerous to take any type of medication, any type of pill that hasnot been prescribed to you by a doctor and yeah. We cound really dive into howthat can be super scary, stuff and again spark CASTA save the day, becausewe now that can be very dangerous, even fatal spark and rising through theashes. Now this one is really you mentioned earlier, how we dive intosparks story throughout other comic books, and this one has any kind offlashback back to learning about sparks mothers and death and the feelings itpor had around that in some depression that she experienced going through thatand were able to kind of talk about the therapy process, and you know metalehealth services and again we are able to really dive in and talk with, SinerSons, experts about that process. So this one you know, spark presing fromthe Ashees Co. You know depression. I love how they're dealing with top withreal life topics that kids are dealing with and teens are dealing with an forthat matter. Adults are dealing with, and I love how, when you stayed inabout the origin story and when you created spark, you talked about, youwanted a real life, relatable teenage girl, and yes in some of these, likethe sexting one and the alcohol one, we see her bending to peer pressure right.She wants people to like her or she thinks this is. This is what I have todo to be accepted just like. We would see a lot of folks today, a lot of kidstoday. Really yes, so you know, and we wanted to show that nobody's immuned to this. Even asuperhero deals with these types of things. You know every kid everybodyeverywer has these choices to make and these issues to face. So who are youfolks reaching with these? Are you focused on a single state yeah? Like Imentioned before, you know, this is all grant funded and the grant doesprimarily focus on the Middle Tennessee area right now. So our distribution,you know wasmainly Middle Tennessee, but we have been... fortunate. You know, like I saidbefore, we're able to you know we go to conferences, so we're able to presintand exhibit an a cuntof conferences all over the country and distribute thesecomic books and therefore, we've been able to share the comic books withpeople all over the country beyond just Middle Tennessee, so primarily metaltendessey, but again all over the country really at times and were awsomeonline. You know it's Inter son comic sat work, so anybody can see themgreate that about how many do you think You'e just Troul, yeah ID thin sixtyzand plus at this pointyeah I've been able to distribute over the years. I know we've been disturbingin the since what twenty fourteen, I guess, Nal and yeah- it's been pretty amazing. 's!Congratulations on that yeah! So I love how at the end of each book,there's a list of questions to spark. Yes, I used spark and that Pon wasintended conversation and great real life. Examples for the reader. Tell usabout that and how organizations are using IM in the feeback group. I mentioned theteacher in that Fayback herd byut a distinctly. Remember her pulling measide, Ou. We were talking to the group and saying hey if you could put aworksheet or some questions or some sort of activity in this comit book. Itwould be amazing. It would make it so much more effective for teachers to usein the classroom- and I said, wonderful idea, so we did it and that's anotherway that we've been able to, of course, use sinterstones, clenitions andexperts to kind of put you the discussion, questions and the plinicaland information in them use our expertiseon that way as well. So 's it's been nice, but we really wanted to make themusable for teachers. Parents clonitions anybody that works with you. We wantedthem to really be able to use them and bring the message hem in that way. Evenyou know I egess it's not just questions. We also try to putinformation about serious topics at the end, sparkin the dangerous switch. There arestatistics from the centers of disease, control in prevention and CBC andsubstance views a Mital health services, administration, Sansa and a you know,lists of questions. You know we wanted to really put information in there as well as you nowsupport conversations about c critical thinking, and you know that sort of thing and then Irising from the Ashans discussees, crucial topics of depression andsuicide prevention among ta today's youth, and that comic includes a for page in Sert,with information and warning signs of suicide and what to do on somebody byby be at risk, as well as details about the DET national suicide provinsionlifeline. We really wanted to provide ou of that serious information in thereas well. You know someone reads the Comic Book and feels e need to reachoff for help. Can you give an example of how one ofthe schools is using the comic book series? Yes, we had some wonderful information from here inTennessee, Heywood, county schools and browsell Tennessee uses the comic booksduring their Guiyese Counselor class sessions. The School Health CountCoordinator introduces he topic with facts about Tennessee and Heywoocounti's rankings and whithever topic. The comic book addresses- and You knowshe says she distributes the comic books and they read them together andthen together they answer the questions back and when we got that informationfrom her it was just so exciting. You know, that's what you want. You knowyou create these things and you put them out into the universe. You're likeokay, a they doing anything. But when you get stories like that, you knowit's wow. We are EGUTAINING, that's great! What kind of responsirehave you been getting from parents and families as well? You know what we findthere is there's such a wonderful...

...conversation starter. So, like I saidit looks like a comic book that the team could bring home or want to readanyway and so got a commint book. You know laying there in the kitchen, and you can talk about it. You can say: OhHosh, what's this about who's, this superhero with what's going on, and thebook takes kind of the scariness out of an uncomfortable topic, you can talkabout what the Superhero debt did and that takes pressure off himself ofthemselves. You Know Tha, the parent and the kid you know you can say whatdid spark do with this Ini in Thi situation. What do you think about howSparksdad handle it? What do you think about the villain? You know what thevillains doing and it's not you K ow. That way. It's notdirectly talking about the teenager directly talking about the parent. Ithink that really helps to take the pressure off and a you know. We alsoyou, I think, help you guide them in the conversation, so it helps brudgesthe gap between teenagers and adults when it comes to having difficultconversations. So I think so nd then talking about comic books. You know,like we said before. You know they're kind of timeless. You know so moof the parentmight have comment book stories or Somethi Comof Bo nnostalgia of theirown yeah. I brought for kids Yeaho theteenage years. I know. Sometimes it's just the start: it's how to start thatconversation and then once you can get get in the door and then you can getgoing and it can flow from there, but just to start that so comic cook is agreat yeah. You know we say anything: You can get your hands on TV, music,conic books, you know anything, but would you say, is the biggest successof the project so far. You know, of course, Thi Success Stories.Somebody coming and saying that they've used the comit books andthey've been successful. You know the kids are picking up. The Cot looks thekids love of the CO books. Those are really great, but I think another levelof this for us is really when we have spart creativity and other organizations oran other educators where they've said. Oh, my goodness,this is a great idea. I wonder if we could edutain in our own way. I wonderif we could find a way to teach about risky behaviors rather than justlecturing. So I think if we're kind of sparking creativity and others, Ireally like that. That really excites me absolutely yeah. Sure SIEC successis when other folks are getting excited about it as well, using the informationprovided. So what's next, do you have any plans for new topics for the comics, we're always thinking about new newtopics? I'd say we're in the brain storming stage right now: We're notcurrently creating another comic book, but we're definitely thinking about it.Okay, maybe a new superhero, maybe middle aged with silver, hair andThinki. You never know. No, I want spark, I'm really, you knowkind of attached to spark a once far to stick around, but maybe she needs apartner crime, not crime, a partner in solving crime. Fighting crime we'll seegreat yeah. We Love We'd love to see more of mor spark. If listeners areinterested in learning more about the comics, where should they go or canthey go on line? Of course they can go to Sindersone comic Stut, Org and CRcomics, and if they have any general questions, they can always make thosethrough our website. We have like a contact us section that they can clickon and I'm ask any questions. They need to and we'll get back e Ri AK with themgreat, so center stone dot or coments. Yes, please! Well, that's great stuff!Actually, thank you so much for being here and sharing with our audience. Ohthanks for having US loved it great...

...and thanks to Centerstone, were happyto make available a complete set of the six comic books to the first fiftylisteners who, like the podcast click, the link in the podcast notes to bebrought to a page or you can enter in your information to receive a set untilth next time. Thanks for listening at Netsmart, we understand the challengesfacing provider organizations. Our team will help you navigate changing value,based care models with solutions and services that make person centered careof reality will equip you with technology and services that provideholistic, real time. Views of Care Histories that inform better decisionmaking and better outcomes visit us today at ntstcom Netsmart serving you.So you can serve others thanks for listening to the net smart care,threads podcast through collaboration and conversation, we can work togetherto make healthcare more connected than ever before and better support thecommunities we serve to ensure you never miss an episode. Please subscribeto the show in your favorite podcast player, if you use apple, podcast, we'dlove for you to give us a quick rating for the show. Just have the number ofstars that you think the podcast deserves until next time.

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