Recently I gave NAMI’s Ending the Silence (ETS) presentation to a group of high school students. I was speaking during last period, and since I’ve given this presentation before, I was prepared to lose their attention. I even had candy with me to keep the students engaged.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by this group. They paid attention, and they listened. Not a single student was on their phone or sleeping. They were with me the entire time. When I asked a question, they answered. And they answered correctly. The presentation took longer than it usually does because they were so responsive. These kids were smart.
They knew the warning signs for mental illness, they knew how to take care of their own mental health and they knew what to do if they saw one of their friends struggling. They knew to find a trusted adult or reach out to the Crisis Text Line or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They knew they could help a friend by including them, checking in on them or writing them a positive note. They knew to take their friends seriously. And they stated that if they saw a troubling post on social media, they would reach out to the person or alert an adult or teacher.
If high school students of today know all of this, then why are the following statements true?
None of this is acceptable and it needs to change. As a society, we are fighting the stigma of mental illness—but at the same time, our rates of mental illness are rising.
We Must Reinforce our Lessons
We are asking a lot from young people. It’s not easy to ask for help. It’s not easy to get help for a friend, especially when your friend is asking you not to tell anyone. It’s not easy to admit you are having bad anxiety or thoughts about suicide. But that is what we are asking our young people to do.
Tracy Greenberg works part-time for the marketing department at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Maryland, and is a proud mom and wife. She has two children, both boys, ages 16 and 15 who she adopted as infants. Her older son is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety and autism. Tracy is a strong mental health advocate and volunteer.
This is why we must reinforce how they should respond to mental health concerns. Because while they may know what they are “supposed” to do, they still might be too scared to actually speak out.
We need to remind them that there are people out there who want to help them. We need to repeat over and over again, that it isokay to not be okay, that there ishelp out there, that being perfect isn’t the standard or expectation. That they can be open about their mental health.
I finished the NAMI Ending the Silence presentation, and then I left the school. But we must continue to do more. ETS is a start, an introduction. We must continue to teach our children that we are there for them and their mental health matters. We must continue to teach them what they can do when they are struggling and how to do it. They may know the answers, but we need to ensure they are acting on them.
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