Understanding Whole Person Health

Last updated: May 17, 2024, at 12:05 p.m. PT

Originally published: January 20, 2022, at 10:36 a.m. PT

kids in Y programs smiling

As a community-based organization, the YMCA of Greater Seattle has a long history of helping support young people in living their healthiest lives and reaching their full potential in spirit, mind, and body. With an ongoing pandemic and social unrest over the past two years, the current impacts and reality for youth is very concerning. 

Young people have been uniquely impacted by the pandemic, having experienced this crisis during important periods of physical, social, and emotional development. Households with young people have been particularly hard hit by loss of income, food, and housing, and disruptions in child care and health care coverage. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) children, who already faced health and economic challenges prior to the pandemic, have been disproportionately impacted. 

In December 2021, the surgeon general and the nation's top three pediatric health organizations declared children’s mental health a national state of emergency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in four young people under the age of 18 have struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past 30 days during the pandemic. Mental health-related visits to emergency departments for children ages 5-17 increased by 24-31% between April and October of 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019. Children in foster and relative care, many of whom have also experienced abuse or neglect and the trauma of being removed from their homes, are likely to experience disproportionately more significant behavioral health impacts from the pandemic.  

Seeing the entire person

whole person health graph

The loss of normalcy, lack of structure and routine, social isolation, disconnection from peers and community, and family separation, coupled with social injustice and racial disparities, have contributed to dramatic declines in health and well-being outcomes for youth, especially among BIPOC and other historically minoritized communities. 

At the Y, we consider the entire person and the circumstances around them when we speak of Whole Person Health. This practice refers to the perspective that individual health is influenced by a range of environmental, social, and biological factors, thus we need to consider helping young adults across five aspects of well-being: 

  1. Physical: Caring for your body to stay healthy now and in the future, across all ages and stages of life. The Y understands that comfort with and access to physical activity varies for people based on the location, cost of services, and dimensions of diversity the staff and organization represent.  
  2. Emotional: Understanding and managing your emotions in a constructive way, along with having caring adult role models, supports healthy youth development. The Y acknowledges the heightened chronic traumatic experiences of people who face ongoing discrimination related to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, and more. 
  3. Social/Relational: Maintaining healthy relationships and building a strong social support network. The Y works to build and sustain the relationships young people need to thrive in their health journeys, including those with their family, friends, educators, peers, and neighbors. 
  4. Spiritual/Cultural: Finding purpose, value, and meaning in your life through participating in activities that build your beliefs while seeing your unique identity and values reflected at the Y. The Y works to ensure its programs and services celebrate all cultures, and align with the values and norms of diverse communities. 
  5. Community: Finding safety in, and meeting daily needs through, the surrounding environment while contributing to a shared and thriving community. The Y connects young people with resources like housing, food, academic support, job-skill training, and more, while providing meaningful opportunities for young people to give back to community through volunteering and mentoring relationships. 

Investing in youth

We believe that investing in young people, particularly those who are farthest from opportunity, is key to advancing equity and justice and building whole person health for all. Below are just a few of the ways we are investing in Whole Person Health for young people. 

  • Access for All: To ensure equitable access for all, income-based financial assistance is available, ensuing no one is denied access to Y programs and services due to financial barriers.   
  • Before and After School Enrichment: We work hand-in-hand with schools to foster social and emotional learning, encourage active play, and give kids the opportunity to discover what they love.  
  • Camp and Outdoor Leadership: Outdoor programs help build leadership, life, and community-building skills through traditional camp experiences and a modern curriculum focused on social and emotional learning, as well as environmental education and stewardship.   
  • Social Impact Center: The Y provides wraparound services including shelter, counseling, employment training, educational support, and more to young people through branch and community locations.  
  • Teen Programs: Our Ys offer a variety of skill exploration, movement, civic engagement, and leadership development programs to help teens and young adults thrive and become change makers in the world.  
  • Water Safety and Swim Lessons: We provide a safe environment for swimmers of all ages and abilities to set goals and achieve success, learn water safety (especially in communities with the highest rate of drownings), and enjoy swimming as a form of exercise.  
  • Year-Round Youth Sports: Youth sports encourage healthy kids by prioritizing family involvement, healthy competition, and the value of participation over winning. 

Together, through the dedicated work of staff, volunteers and community partners, we are supporting the healing and recovery process from the trauma of the past two years, and beyond, and mitigating both the immediate effects and long-term disruptions to whole person health, well-being, and quality of life for young people.  

Learn more about how you can support Whole Person Health through our Advancing Equity and Justice for All campaign and Vision 2025, our strategic plan to support youth and communities.

Category: Giving