By Emalee Gillis, NAMI Spokane Blog Editor.
NAMI Ending the Silence is an engaging presentation that helps audiences of young people, school staff, and parents learn about the warning signs of mental health conditions and what steps to take if you or a loved one are showing symptoms of a mental health condition. Ending the Silence presentations include two leaders: one who shares an informative presentation and a young adult living with a mental health condition who shares their journey of recovery. Audience members can ask questions and gain understanding of an often-misunderstood topic. Through dialogue, the program hopes to grow the movement to end stigma.
Amanda Kaplan, the Programs and Outreach Coordinator for NAMI Spokane, has often served as a presenter for local Ending the Silence presentations. According to Ms. Kaplan, Ending the Silence entails three related but separate presentations, one for students in a classroom, one for school staff, and one for parents and community groups. While the three programs cover much of the same material, the area of emphasis and structure changes for each one.
The presentation for students is the most frequently requested program of the three in Spokane. The program is aimed at middle and high school students. Topics include what is mental health, what are mental health conditions, the warning signs for serious mental health conditions, positive coping skills, and how to help a friend. The program is interactive. For example, the presenter asks what are some of the participants’ favorite positive coping skills. Student participants might mention talking to an adult, sending a message of caring, or using the mental health resources of the school.
Other interactive exercises in the Ending the Silence for Students program include discussing why it’s important to talk to someone if you or someone you know is showing warning signs and what happens when someone doesn’t get help for symptoms of a mental health condition. The presenter shares examples of how to start the conversation and offer support to a friend who is exhibiting warning signs. Warning signs discussed include feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks, severe out-of-control risk-taking behavior that causes harm to self or others, sudden overwhelming fear for no reason sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort or fast breathing, drastic changes in mood/behavior/personality or sleeping habits among others.
Some students at these presentations have delved into different aspects of talking with a friend. For example, students have said that before unloading their concerns on a friend they might ask their friend if they have the bandwidth to handle that conversation. Other students have suggested the importance of creating space by first stating whether they want to just vent or whether they want solutions.
NAMI National conducted a research program to determine if the Ending the Silence program actually built skills and changed attitudes toward mental health conditions among students. 932 high school students and 252 middle school students including control groups were tested before and after the NAMI presentations. Scores increased for the students who participated in the Ending the Silence presentation and remained elevated over pre-program scores at the 4-6-week follow-up. Scores for the Control group students remained the same across all three administrations. The study concluded that the NAMI Ending the Silence program resulted in a robust and effective change in school students’ knowledge and attitudes toward mental health conditions and toward help-seeking.
According to Ms. Kaplan, as part of the Ending the Silence programs for school staff and community groups, the presenter offers the adults in the room three different types of scenarios to discuss. One scenario might involve a student who becomes argumentative and disrespectful to adults when preparing for exams. Another scenario might involve a student who is very withdrawn, giving away possessions, and may be having suicidal ideation. Another scenario might be in between the two and fall more in the gray area. A discussion follows about what are appropriate actions to take in each case. Who would the adult involve? What resources would they use? These scenarios give people exposure that mental health is not black and white, but has gray areas. For some adults, that has been the most important thing they have gleaned from the presentation. For others, the primary benefit is talking openly with others about the mental health conditions they or someone they love is challenged by. School staff have expressed to Ms. Kaplan that they have most benefitted from thinking through what are their options when faced with a student who appears to be experiencing some level of a mental health condition.
As part of the program for parents, the presenter asks the participants to raise their hands if they have ever had, for example, a concern that their child is not meeting goals. Then another concern is raised and hands go up. As the parents see other people raising their hands for a concern they have for their child, they feel less alone.
One of the favorite portions of all three Ending the Silence presentations is when the co-presenter, a young adult between the age of 18 and 35 shares their lived experience with a mental health condition. The young adult talks about their warning signs and symptoms and what helped and what didn’t help. They talk about the stigma they’ve experienced. They share their story and their successes and open up to questions from the audience. Putting a face to a mental health condition is a powerful way to break down stereotypes, reduce stigma, and end the silence.
To schedule a free Ending the Silence program for a classroom, school staff, or a community group, contact Ms. Kaplan at email@example.com.
Amanda Kaplan is the Programs and Outreach Coordinator for NAMI Spokane. She is a presenter for the Ending the Silence program and a state trainer. She completed a law degree at Gonzaga University before switching the focus of her work to mental health.
Emalee Gillis is a writer and blog editor. She is the author of the memoir Adventures on the Path to Living Well with a Mental Illness and has a related TEDx Talk.