By Colleen Duewel, NAMI Director of Education
I am delighted to announce that NAMI has added NAMI Ending the Silence as a signature education program. NAMI Ending the Silence is an in-school presentation about mental health designed for high school students. Students can learn about mental illness directly from the family members and individuals living with mental illness themselves.
Although only a short, 50 minute presentation, NAMI Ending the Silence is effective at raising awareness, encouraging early identification and intervention and giving a human face to mental illness. By providing a realistic view of recovery and starting a dialog with the students, this program removes the fear and mystery that is often the result of the silence surrounding what can feel like a scary topic.
The goal of this program is to create a generation of students that are well-positioned to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness through education, support and advocacy. In NAMI Ending the Silence, presenters are trained to “share” as opposed to “teach” the material. The tone set with this attitude is critical. Presenters talk to the students, not at them. They make eye contact with the individual students, chat with them upon entering the classroom and hang around after class is over to visit briefly. As a result, students realize that NAMI Ending the Silence presenters really care about them.
In the presentation, students learn about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, recovery and coping strategies, how to help friends, how to reduce stigma and other important topics that can help spread awareness and knowledge of mental illness.
In the coming months, we will be featuring personal perspectives from some of the presenters for the program on the NAMI Blog. One of those presenters is Danny Gibbs. In a blog for NAMI, Danny writes, "NAMI Ending the Silence succeeds where so many other forms of outreach fail because of the genuine validity of our experience. Unlike many health teachers who work out of a book and have no personal context to draw on, we have lived expertise acquired through years of struggle."
The experiences shared by presenters like Danny can help students learn about their own struggles. “I believe I have had seasonal depression since seventh grade. I have been holding it in for a really long time,” wrote one of the students after attending NAMI Ending the Silence. “After hearing the presentation I went home and told my mom. I told her I need help with this because it is not something I can fix myself; I have tried and tried… Now after the school day I have a meeting with a psychiatrist. I am really scared, but I know I am doing the right thing.”
As a parent, it’s incredibly moving to hear the compassion and understanding that some of the young men and women gain after attending NAMI Ending the Silence. As the program continues to grow I become ever more hopeful that this next generation will remove the stigma and make people feel it is ok to talk.