By Jane Repetti
Each May, the United States observes Mental Health Awareness Month. The increased media attention on mental health awareness during May makes it a great time for schools and communities to organize activities aimed at increasing awareness, reducing stigma, and promoting prevention of issues related to mental health.
During this month, there is one particularly special day to recognize: Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 9. The theme of this year’s Children’s Mental Health Day is “successful transitions from high school to college.” There is a great need to focus in on this area. As SAMHSA explains, “In 2009, only 53 percent of young adults ages 18 to 25 with serious mental health challenges enrolled in postsecondary education, compared to 67 percent of young adults of the same age without mental health challenges.” With the help of supporters such as family, friends, and mental health providers, young adults with behavioral health challenges may be more likely to go on to succeed in college and be productive, well-adjusted adults.
Why Should You Participate?
Your organization can glean many benefits from its participation in Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, for example:
- The opportunity to be seen as a leader in your community
- A clear demonstration of your commitment to the well-being of the whole child
- A chance to effectively spread the word that people living with mental illness can and do thrive in their community, at school, and at work
Whether or not you have student involvement, and even if you have little time to plan, there are still great opportunities to participate this month!
How Can You Become Involved?
- Write something. Write an op-ed piece, a letter to the editor, or a guest column for a local paper. Having your own piece published is a great way to ensure that your message gets across clearly. Encourage students to write pieces as well. Student voices are particularly relevant since this year’s focus is on young adults—and community members are often interested in youth perspectives.
- Use social media to share the message of hope. Social media is a quick and effective way to reach a wide audience. SAMHSA has suggestions for how to use both Twitter and Facebook to honor Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Mental Awareness Day on its April 2013 Social Media Message Page. Twitter hashtags for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day include #1in5 and #HeroesofHope. For Mental Health Awareness Month, SAMHSA recommends using the hashtag #MentalHealthMonth. You can start tweeting and posting on Facebook about mental health awareness right away and continue throughout the month of May and beyond. Our site has many great resources that you can share on children’s and youth’s mental health, such as School Mental Health and Childhood Trauma and Its Effect on Healthy Development.
- Host a webinar. Webinars are another activity that can be useful to promote Mental Health Month or Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day—and they’re relatively easy to put together even when time is limited. Free programs such as AnyMeeting, Google+ Hangouts, and FreeScreenSharing can help you organize and host a virtual forum. Invite community members to your webinar and use this opportunity to demonstrate the importance of mental health, how it affects the whole community, and how your schools, partners, and community are working together to elevate the importance of mental health treatment and promotion.
Activities Planned by SS/HS and Project LAUNCH Grantees
On April 18, the National Center hosted a Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day Office Hours conference call. During this call, SS/HS grantees and Communication Specialist Adrienne Dealy shared activity ideas and tips. Notes and materials from the call are available to aid you in your planning process.
Every year Project LAUNCH Grantees plan Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day Activities that aim to bring attention to the importance of children’s mental health while also demonstrating why positive mental health is key to children’s development from the day they are born. In past years, these activities have included marches, poster design contests, and webinar series.
Activities Planned by Communities, Schools, and Organizations Around the Country
SAMHSA has examples of great activities from all over the country. For example, in Michigan, Network 180 will host a free mental health festival for families that includes games, performances, raffles, and community resource booths. Other ideas are photo and art exhibits, awareness-themed events at sports games, and public service announcements. At the national level, the American Legion Auxiliary is encouraging its local units to write articles and use social media to share awareness messages.
Want to share your plans with SAMHSA? Use the Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day Pledge form to let us know what you’re doing!
Need some more ideas and information to help you get started? Here are some fun resources we’ve found:
- The Developing Brain: What It Means for Treating Adolescents—a videocast from the National Institute of Mental Health
- Green mental health awareness ribbons,which you can orderfrom the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
- Bringing Mental Illness Out of the Shadows: A Parents’ Perspective , a webinar to be offered on May 8 at 8 p.m. EST by the Child Mind Institute; during this webinar, a panel of experts will address stigma, parent and youth peer support, and access to effective services from the perspective of parents and caregivers
What activities are you planning for Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day? How is your community involved? Which activities have worked best for you in the past? Please leave your comments below.*
Don’t miss out—sign up here to receive our blog, Promote Prevent Perspectives, in a weekly email!
*E-mail addresses will be kept confidential.