Teens will talk to other teens -- and teens will listen to other teens.
That's the core idea behind a new peer group that meets at 7:30 p.m. Mondays at the Orange branch of the Delaware County District Library, 7171 Gooding Blvd.
Actify was created earlier this fall by Olentangy High School sophomore Ellery Ashford and her mother, Dorothy Ashford, as a safe space where young people can share stresses and struggles with peers.
The meeting time will switch to 7 p.m. Tuesdays in January.
The group, open to all teenagers, was born out of Ellery Ashford's personal experience in group counseling, during which she learned it's common to find teens dealing with stress, anxiety and depression who feel unable to open up about their concerns.
"When I realized I wasn't alone, I wanted to find a way to let other kids know they're not alone either," the 15-year-old said. "I wanted to have a place where we let kids know it's OK to talk about what's happening in their lives or what they're going through and to tell them it's OK to ask for help and to provide resources for how to do it."
"We wanted kids to not feel alone and to know there was something readily available to them," her mother said.
Actify is not a formal support group, nor is it counseling, she said, but rather a peer gathering intended as a sort of fellowship for young people whose struggles with anxiety and stress leave them feeling alone, left out and unable to share their feelings with even a trusted adult.
"We talk about our weeks, about things that we couldn't tell our parents," Ellery Ashford said. "We help each other work up the courage to open up about things, to talk about things."
Her mother is present at the meetings but remains outside the room where the teens meet, she said. Attendance has ranged from eight to 14, she said.
Ellery Ashford said Actify provides resources, and attendees sometimes will encourage fellow teens to discuss their issues with a trusted adult -- a parent, school counselor or someone else.
Meetings have included presentations from mental-health professionals, a yoga instructor and Orange branch teen librarian Becky Woodruff, who compiled a list of phone numbers and online resources as well as nonfiction titles on mental-health issues.
"It's really important, given the things these teens are going through, to have a group like this and available resources," Woodruff said. "I see their struggles and concerns constantly as a teen librarian."
Dorothy Ashford said she appreciates the support the group has garnered from many in the community for the effort, which she sees as an often-necessary first step for youth.
"This is not therapy, but maybe it's a place for kids who are on a waiting list to get into counseling, or maybe some kids don't need counseling but just need to be heard and recognized," she said.
Deanna Brant, executive director of the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, said the more resources that are available to teens, the better.
"Mental health, and teen mental health in particular, is a complex issue," she said.
Brant said national and state data show an increase in instances of mental illness, stress and depression, in particular in the 10-14 and 15-24-year-old age groups. She said early intervention is key.
"In my experience, I've seen that, particularly in high school students, they are more comfortable sharing with their peers," Brant said, adding adult guidance is important even in peer-driven environments.
Dorothy Ashford acknowledged Actify doesn't have all the answers, but is a place where young people can ask questions.
"There's a lot of pressure on kids these days. We don't want to normalize that stuff and ignore the struggle," she said. "Hopefully, this is a place where kids can get started talking about it."
Her daughter said she wants the group's members to build a sense of belonging.
"It's like my purpose," she said.
For more information, visit actify-columbus.com or ActifyColumbus on Instagram and Facebook.