Imagine a class where students talk about mental illness with the same openness and sensitivity as heart disease or cancer. Or picture a classroom where someone calls a classmate “a psycho” and is immediately taken to task by students in the cla
To people who have experienced the pain of being ridiculed or taunted because they have a mental illness, this seems like a fairy tale. But it isn’t. They are actual reports of changes in behavior from real schools that have used “Breaking the Silence: Teaching the Next Generation About Mental Illness,” an anti-stigma teaching package for upper elementary, middle school and high school levels.
These lessons were developed with funding from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or NAMI, as part of its anti-discrimination campaign. With more than 220,000 members, NAMI is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by serious mental illness.
One out of 10 children under the age of 18 has a mental Illness, but according to the surgeon general, less than one in five gets treatment. Stigma is often what prevents them from receiving needed care. Breaking the Silence was designed to combat stigma and encourage young people to seek treatment.
“These educational materials, which put a human face on mental illness, teach tolerance along with the warning signs of mental illness. We look forward to the day when no one will be ashamed to seek help for a mental illness, and treatment will be as readily available as it is for other serious illnesses like heart disease and diabetes,” said Janet Susin, project director of Breaking the Silence.
The Breaking the Silence educational package includes full scripted lessons, puzzles, striking posters, cross-curricular activities as well as a popular anti-stigma game called “The Brain Game.” These attractive, easy-to-use materials that apply stories to humanize serious mental illness were developed by the Education Committee of NAMI Queens/Nassau under the leadership of committee chair Janet Susin, with committee members Lorraine Kaplan and Louise Slater.
Teachers and parents of children with a mental illness drew on their classroom and personal experience to develop these unique materials. They are used in 42 states as well as other countries.
James L Stone, commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health, has said of these materials: “Mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability in this country. These lessons, which teach the warning signs of mental illness, should be part of every child’s education.”
For information on Breaking the Silence, call NAMI Queens/Nassau at 616-326-0797, or go to www.btslessonplans.org or Friendshipnetwork.org. Contributions can be made to NAMI Queens/Nassau Friendship Network in honor or in memory of special people in your life. Acknowledgements of your contribution will be sent to the donor.
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