Teen mental health concerns build audience for NAMI’s Ending the Silence class


is a great opportunity to reach teens with mental health issues

Jim Grathwol is always on the lookout for the stragglers. After presenting Ending The Silence, an interactive class for high school students that provides information on mental health and first-person discussions with someone who has lived with it, a few children usually get up to speak.

“Every presentation we do has at least one student who lingers with their backpacks or water bottles until they have time to ask, ‘Is it me?’,” said Grathwol a parent peer educator for NAMI Minnesota.

This class will provide information on early signs and how to get help. Grathwol makes it a point to remind students that mental illness is very common among young people in this post-COVID world.

“It’s their water,” Grathwol stated about mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. “Does the fish even know it’s in the water?” Adolescence can be a time of transition, anxiety, and growth. High school has always had a certain element of this. It’s now up to 11.

NAMI Minnesota started offering Ending the Silence before COVID. But demand is increasing as young people suffer from mental illness.

The numbers are the evidence. Renee Labat is the coordinator of the NAMI Minnesota youth program. She explained that schools are asking for the presentation. The presentation will be offered to students in the 2022-23 school years. The class is made possible by donor funding.

Labat stated that the last fiscal year saw the teaching of 204 Ending Silence classes to 9,043 students. “We’ve already taught 64 classes this school year to almost 3,000 students, even though we’ve only been in school for a month and half.”

Sue Abderholden

According to Sue Abderholden (NAMI Minnesota executive director), word has spread about the presentation to other groups. Abderholden stated that “we have had groups such as churches, faith communities and Scouts who have reached out to us asking for Ending the Silence.” “The program’s message is so important: We want it to be available to as many youth as possible.

Normalizing mental illness

Marit Lee-Dohse is a high school health science teacher at Hopkins High School. She has an in-depth understanding of the mental health problems of adolescents.

She said, “I have 30 students in my class, so there are quite some who struggle with mental illness.” Lee-Dohse, a 25-year-old teacher, has seen many presentations on mental health for teens over the course of her career. But she was searching for something new. Through an internet search, she discovered NAMI Minnesota and Ending Silence.

Lee-Dohse became a convert after meeting Labat and viewing a presentation. She said, “They do such an excellent job going through warning signs for mental illness. What you can do when you see them in yourself or in someone you know.”

Lee-Dohse says the topic is relevant to her and her Hopkins colleagues, particularly now. She said, “We are very fortunate that NAMI takes time to come in today and present.” “Our children leave with useful information that they can put into practice.” It doesn’t matter if they talk to other people or have a phone number, it’s incredibly valuable.

Teachers say that Ending the Silence’s curriculum is particularly helpful because it focuses on normalizing mental illness, and breaking down discrimination against those who have mental health issues.

Maribel Arellano is a teacher of wellness and physical education at Apple Valley High School. She has invited the NAMI Minnesota team to her classroom almost every year since Labat approached her about the program. The presentation on mental health is straightforward and honest, with real-life stories from people who have overcome mental illness. This helps her students to see beyond any prejudices.

Arellano stated that Labat and her classmates came into her class to “open the door.” Mental health is something that we all have to deal with. All of us have a brain. This is our mental health. It’s a wonderful educational and foundational experience for my students.”

Lee-Dohse stated that the program’s emphasis upon speaking out about mental health issues is crucial. This class encourages young people to talk about their concerns. Too many youth suffer in silence. Lee-Dohse spoke highly of Labat, saying that she spends time discussing mental illness stigma. “If students feel that this is something that other people have gone through, it is something they can relate to, that is so important.”

Labat and her NAMI colleagues felt that it was crucial to reach out to high school teachers in Minnesota when COVID took over.

Abderholden stated that the more people see Ending the Silence, the better. Abderholden sees the interest in the program as evidence that there is a growing awareness of mental illness and how many people it affects. She believes that young people, including students, are driving this change.

Abderholden stated, “I see in the club formed in high school around mental illness that there’s such a great awareness among young people about mental health.” Ending the Silence provides additional information that can help people talk about mental illness.

Stories are the’superpower’

Ending the Silence’s program is unique in that all of its presenters have experienced mental illness or shared it with someone they care about. This helps to build trust with the young audience that the program serves.

Labat, a person suffering from depression, shares her story with students about how she was able to get help from a trusted adult. She said, “I talk to my aunt about getting help when I needed.” “It was easier to have that conversation with other people.

Grathwol said that the class is “very dear and dear to me” because his two young adult children were diagnosed with mental illness in their teens. Grathwol didn’t have a good understanding of the signs and symptoms of mental illness so it took him time to learn about them. Because he wanted to help others understand mental illness and the possibility of recovery, Grathwol became an Ending the Silence Presenter.

Abderholden stated that Ending the Silence will succeed if people have firsthand experience. The lived experience helps young people to see that there are others who have had similar experiences to theirs. It also gives them hope to realize that they are not the only ones who have experienced mental illness.

Grathwol said that the approach is effective with students. They lean in. They are committed. They are engaged when I go through the same symptoms as my children.

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