Twenty percent of young people ages thirteen to eighteen have a mental health condition. And while mental illness is pervasive in our society, the stigma that surrounds it discourages people from seeking help.
Karen Gerndt of the National Alliance on Mental Illness discusses initiatives intended to educate and start conversations between students, within families, with teachers and others. Part two includes conversation starters and additional information.
Interview recorded June 14, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham. Part 2 of 2.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: And let’s say I’m a teenager. Let’s say I’m 13 — doesn’t matter — 13, 14, 15 years old, and I’m feeling a certain way, but perhaps I may not have parents around. Perhaps I don’t have the relationship with my parents that maybe you and I had. Where can I go for some information confidentially?
Gerndt: Sure. Again, you can go to nami.org, but you also want to go to your school counselor and talk to them and share with a trusted adult. And one of our programs, called NAMI Ending the Silence, really teaches teens how to identify either for themselves or for a friend and really get to that trusted adult so that they can get help and get that sooner. Because research is showing us, the sooner we have treatment, the better the outcomes are gonna be long-term.
Traynham: And, Karen, I believe research also shows that having a conversation about this and normalizing it to a certain degree where there is no stigma — there should be no stigma, there should be no shame — helps individuals to be able to come to terms with this and also to get the treatment that they need.
Traynham: How important is that, “A,” and, “B,” how frequent should you have conversations with your child?
Gerndt: You want to have conversations with your child from Day 1, just if they’re not feeling well, if they’re sad, if they’re behavior is changing, is to bring it up and start talking about it right away, just as you would if you had a bug bite or scratches or were feeling just anxious around that, so that it, again, is just common conversation.
Traynham: This is an odd question to ask, but who should initiate that conversation — the parent or the child? Or does it matter?
Gerndt: It doesn’t matter as long as you talk about that. We also have a free college guide to start the conversation between parents and students. And that, again, just really talks about somebody needs to start talking about this and asking questions. “How are you feeling? Are things going okay at school?” And you can do that whether you’re in college or whether you’re in high school and middle school.
Traynham: You know, it’s really interesting that bullying — online bullying but also in-person bullying — I think impacts people in many, many different ways, being called stupid or being called slow or using the “R” word, meaning retarded, and so forth, it just creates this culture where it’s okay to say those things. How do we combat that, the bullying part of this?
Gerndt:You really want to make it… touch home and let people know how it impacts people. Our Ending the Silence program, again, has a young adult come in and talk to the students in high school.
Traynham: So it’s peer to peer, so, in other words, a young adult coming in and talking to a young adult.
Gerndt: Right, right.
Traynham: That’s really important.
Gerndt: It is so impactful with that young adult to be able to say, “This is what happened to me when I was in high school. I’m not alone.” And it’s important, again, for that young adult to say, “I got help, and things got better. And you need to take that step for yourself or you need you to take that step for a friend.”