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Overcoming Stigma – County Youth “Get Schooled” on Mental Health

On April 11, 2018, the Get SchooledTour from Fort Wayne, Indiana traveled to Vincennes University where they conducted an interactive assembly with Knox counties seventh and eighth graders, totaling almost 850 students. Samaritan Center’s System of Care and administrators from the four county schools, (Lincoln, South Knox, Rivet and North Knox), collaboratively applied for and were selected to receive a Mental Health America of Indiana grant. Casandra Brocksmith, Samaritan Center’s System of Care Coordinator, worked diligently with the schools over the past six months and made the assembly possible.

During the hour presentation, the Get Schooled Tour provided a high-energy convocation, combined with music, interactive polling, and a compelling video, designed to educate students about mental health issues. It was specifically tailored for teens to understand that they are not alone in their struggles, to share these struggles with caring adults and, to look for others around them that need support as well.  Main topics discussed during the assembly were bullying and friendship, as well as, depression, anxiety, suicide, substance use, sexting andothers.

“The trauma and adversity that our students bring into our classrooms ischanging how we as educators address learning,” said Mary Rodimel, Director of Daviess and Martin Special Education Cooperation and member of the System of Care Board of Governors. “The Get Schooled program was a positive piece of improving experiences for our students that help activate positive development in our brains. The data that was gathered in the program is already being used to inform us of our next steps in helping students.”

Students participated in an anonymous poll through their mobile device about mental health issues they are struggling with. The questions they were asked were selected by each of their schools in conjunction with System of Care. When students were asked, “what’s the biggest problem your school faces,” 43% of students answered drugs or alcohol and 29% said bullying. Additionally, 25% of students reported high levels of anxiety. While some of the responses were tough to grasp, 89% of students responded that they feel like they have a safe person that they could talk to for help with life struggles and 41% said that those individuals are their parents. Students were also encouraged to talk to a trusted adult about their social and emotional struggles. While the community still has work to do in these areas, great strides are being taken in the support of our youth.

“The Get Schooled Tour was an excellent way to let students know that they are not alone in whatever difficulty they are facing. Teen suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15-24, and we need to reach out to them in a way that is familiar and relatable,” stated Sheryl Schaefer-Jones, Director of Special Education with the Knox County Special Education Cooperative. “The music, storytellingandelectronic polling engaged the students in a way that allowed them to open up and share their own personal struggles, and see that others are experiencing the same thing. Knowing that you are not alone is very powerful. There are always concerned adults who will listen and help. Teens need to know that whatever the secret struggle might be, it does not have the final say on their future.”

At the conclusion of the convocation, students had the option to speak directly to a school counselor, Samaritan Center mental health professional or another school identified trusted adult from the community for help with their struggles. Crisis chat centers and community resource cards were provided to the students following the event. Hundreds of Knox County’s youth utilized the crisis chat line following the assembly.

The grant, which was initially sent to the state’s System of Care Coordinators, stimulated the conversation among the Samaritan Center’s youth leadership team who knew this would be an ideal opportunity to work in collaboration with the schools.“This was an opportunity to help our community’s students with whatever struggles they may be dealing with, including mental health struggles,” said Brocksmith. “This all would not have been possible without the support of many other agencies involved in System of Care.”

The System of Care and participating schools received the polling response data from the assembly and have begunworking together in developing means to overcome the identified areas of need. The assembly was a huge step in overcoming the stigma around mental health and showing students in the community that they are loved and supported.