Ending the Silence About Mental Illness
by Noah Liedtke
On Wednesday, March 14, a speaker from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) came to Northside to talk about mental health awareness. The X block was organized by Kelly Martinez, Adv. 911, and sponsored by Mr. Charles Milbert, Social Science department. Martinez also organized an X block last year for mental health, focusing on de-stressing techniques. When asked about the change to a more formal presentation this year, she said, “This year, we decided to shift the de-stressing block to a Y block. While stress management is an important part of mental health, this year, we wanted to have a more comprehensive view on mental health for students. We chose to have a speaker that could potentially share their experience with mental illness and give more insight to students who might not have had any experiences revolving around this topic. The purpose of this was to give students more comfort in discussing mental health and hopefully break down some stigmas.”
The presenter, Abby, switched between speaking and showing videos relating to the topics, which were all made by students around the country for the organization. She started off the presentation explaining exactly what mental health is. She said a healthy mind should be dealing with emotions in a positive way, and that a person should be sleeping enough, eating right, and maintaining healthy relationships. She defined mental illnesses as physical conditions that change how people act, and she stressed that the illnesses are not the person’s fault, nor are they limiting. She listed some warning signs and urged students to seek treatment if they believe they have a mental illness. She then talked about the different kinds of therapy and types of medications. Abby then talked about her own mental health journey. She talked about how she has OCD, but did not know it for the longest time. When she eventually saw a therapist and got treatment, she no longer felt limited in her life. She still got a degree from Vanderbilt University, and currently works at GE healthcare.
Abby told the students that one in every four people deals with mental illness at some point in their life, but only one out of every three people affected ever seek help. She stated that one in five youth from ages 8-15 experience mental illness, but only 50% ever receive treatment. Stigma is the cited as the biggest reason why--it is an image put on an entire group which not only portrays people negatively, but it also prohibits people from recognizing they have a condition if they do not fit the stereotype. She hopes that people, especially students, can stop this negative stigma towards mental health. The way to do this is being a friend. If you are not struggling with a mental illness, you can help your friends and classmates by recognizing warning signs, such as withdrawal, exhaustion, changes in mood, weight loss or weight gain, extreme risk taking, or sudden overwhelming fear and paranoia. The two most urgent symptoms are self-harm or mentioning suicide. If you come across these things, ask your friend about it directly, and depending on their answer, talk to an adult about it. Do not keep it a secret and try to not leave them alone. If they are showing signs that are not quite as serious, the best thing you can do is be a good friend to them. Try to be understanding, check in, and keep including them in plans.
If you yourself are showing signs of mental illness, reach out. Even if you are not sure, try talking to your parents, doctor, a trusted friend, or the school psychologist (information can be found on the “Student Support” page on Northside’s website). If you do not feel comfortable talking to someone in person, NAMI also gave out two important phone numbers: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and the 24/7 Crisis Text Line (text “NAMI” to 741741).
If you missed the presentation this year, you can learn more about mental illness and find support at websites such as nami.org, ok2talk.org, and thetrevorproject.org. Speakers from NAMI will most likely be returning next year as well. This event will hopefully bring mental health awareness not only to the students, but the administration as well. Martinez states, “Our own health curriculum at school goes nowhere near this, even though I've met students in all grade levels that could be helped by this kind of information. It might seem like 50 minutes that could be used for homework or something, but it could be potentially life changing (or even life saving) information for a student. I hope to see that events like this make our school and its administration put effort to prioritize mental health education. Personally, I had to miss out on many opportunities, give up many things I'm passionate about because my mental illnesses became very invasive. Had I seen something similar to the Ending the Silence program, it may have inspired me to reach out for help.” Hopefully this short presentation makes an impact on people’s lives, directly or indirectly.