High school can be a challenging time for any student. But, for many adolescents, it is also commonly the time of onset for a mental illness. 1 in 5 youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition, and yet more than half are not receiving help. Students at the Friends School of Baltimore started the NAMI and Empathy Club to ensure their peers get mental and emotional support when they need it.
Raising awareness and reducing stigma is key to increasing the likelihood that teens seek out mental health care. Club leader, Cloris Feng, hopes to challenge the misconceptions surrounding mental health and says the new student organization aims to “be the first to reach out, so students know help and support is there.” The club worked with school counselor, Kristy Norbert, and then reached out to NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore to find ways to get students and teachers talking about the issue.
Last month, the club hosted a school-wide assembly to start the mental health conversation. Students viewed Opening Minds: Ending Stigma, A Young Person’s Perspective, a short film that explores the signs of mental illness and how to seek support through personal stories. Warning signs of a mental health condition can include significant changes in behavior or mood for more than 2 weeks, trouble sleeping, or worries or fears about daily activities. The film shows that mental health conditions are more than just the blues, and affect one’s thinking, feelings or mood, and ability to function.
Following the assembly, students met in their advisory groups with a teacher or counselor for small group discussions about the film. Kristy, who led an advisory group of 8 students, found that many of the teens were surprised to learn the statistics. Advisory groups were then engaged to find ways to make changes at school. Groups had many ideas, including enhancing the “freshman-senior buddy” peer mentor program and creating spaces for students to openly discuss their feelings and experiences.
The next week, students had the opportunity to continue the conversation over lunch. The group was able to hear stories of mental illness from two NAMI In Our Own Voice presenters who are individuals living in recovery. Students also had the opportunity to ask the presenters questions, providing a deeper understanding of what it is like to live with a mental illness.
Discussing what a teen is experiencing and feeling with others is an important step to getting help. Cloris and fellow club members hope that students will be able to find a trusted person to talk with if they are experiencing mental health challenges. In the coming months, the NAMI and Empathy Club will continue to increase awareness and build safe and caring spaces at the Friends School. The club members are planning a project to post notes with kind and encouraging messages around the school. The club is also looking forward to forming a NAMIWalks team to increase awareness and challenge stigma not only at school, but also in their community.
Learn more about children and adolescent mental health.
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