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Building Mental Health Resilience Through Play with MESH Helps



MESH Helps started with a question: “How can we strengthen the skills kids need for their mental, emotional, and social health and build resilience through play?” ThinkFun, a division of Ravensburger, inaugurated this initiative in partnership with resilience expert, Dr. Deborah Gilboa who prepared research and built the MESH White Paper. MESHhelps.org launched to bring this important conversation about kids’ mental health to the forefront to address the growing concerns. 


MESH Helps is proud to be a nonprofit organization as of December 2023 with a mission to help kids build resilience through play. 


What is the problem?


Rates of childhood mental health concerns have risen steadily since 2010. Current research shows that the top concern for parent is their children’s mental health:


  • 44% of teenagers reported feeling “sad or hopeless” in 2021 (source)

  • 89% of parents currently report that their child’s mental health is more important than their academic achievement (source)

  • 24% of children ages 5-11 visited the emergency room during the 2020 school year for their mental health (source)


A National State of Emergency was declared in Children’s Mental Health in October 2021 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association. In these organizations’ combined 125 years of existence, this has never happened. We are in a youth mental health crisis. 


Many people have two assumptions about the cause of children’s mental health:


  1. The pandemic created a decline in our children’s mental health 

  2. Issues with mental health are isolated to teenagers using social media


Evidence shows that children’s mental health concerns are not solely due to the pandemic nor isolated to teenagers. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people. The pandemic exposed and worsened already disturbing mental health issues in our child population. 






What is the solution?


Many youth organizations and government agencies are rolling up their sleeves to help play a crucial role in protecting the mental health of children. The toy industry has a significant opportunity to be a part of the solution. 


“MESH Helps gives the toy industry the chance to go beyond ‘what we do’ and make a huge difference in the lives of children because that is ‘who we are’ as a community.” -Jamie Gallagher, MESH board member


Product certification was overwhelmingly requested by retailers, manufacturers, and other toy industry stakeholders when the MESH Helps initiative was launched. The MESH Accreditation Program was formed with a framework to evaluate and certify play products that by design, feature, and/or instruction intentionally build skills of resilience in children to strengthen their mental, emotional, and social health. 

“We found that most of us assume products like fidget toys and squishy stuffed animals are toys that help kids with their mental health. These products provide comfort in times of mental distress. While comfort is essential, it is not what makes children stronger and more resilient for the next time they face changes and challenges in their life.” -Rachele Harmuth, Head of ThinkFun


MESH accredited products allow parents, caregivers, therapists, and others the opportunity to peruse and purchase toys and games that their child can use to develop the 8 crucial skills of 

strengthening resilience:




To help convey the skills more simply, the well documented and researched skills of mental, emotional, and social health were pared down with the help of Dr. Gilboa, resilience expert, to 4 play patterns:




Engaging in activities or playing with toys and games that encourage any one of these four play patterns can help children develop MESH skills to protect them from the risky behaviors and self-harm that are too often the result of their mental distress. 





What is the opportunity?

As the mental health challenges facing our youth persist and grow, it is crucial for us, as members of the toy industry, to recognize our role in addressing these issues. We have an incredible opportunity to not only create joy and entertainment but also to make a tangible impact on the lives of children and adolescents. MESH Helps is a commitment to prioritizing mental, emotional, and social health in the toys and products we produce and promote. Our goal is not to simply acknowledge the problem but to actively contribute to the protection and strengthening of children’s resilience in an ever-evolving world.



By embracing the principles of MESH Helps, we can make a significant difference. We can empower children and their families, offering them the tools they need to navigate life’s challenges with resilience through play and togetherness. 


If we seize this moment, step up for our children and their well-being, we can lay the foundation for a healthier, more resilient, and more fulfilled future for generations to come. MESH Helps invites all stakeholders to join us in this initiative to create a brighter tomorrow through products designed with MESH in mind. 



“We live in a world of big feelings and big emotions, and as leaders in the business of play, we must encourage product innovations that support grownups in their efforts to support the kids in their lives.” -James Zahn, The Toy Book

For more information on the MESH Helps, please visit www.MESHhelps.org or email info@MESHhelps.org 

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