SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)
Youth Mental Health Day
The Youth Mental Health Day program began in February 2007. Central Mississippi Residential Center (CMRC) partnered with regional schools, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health's Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter, and the Newton Police Department to provide professional presenters who are not only knowledgeable in their field, but also able to connect with the students. Students travel to CMRC's facility during school hours, once as eighth graders and again as tenth graders, to learn about topics including suicide prevention, dating violence, and alcohol and drug abuse prevention. The Youth Mental Health Day program is an educational community health outreach program that bridges a gap in youth mental health care services.
SAMHSA reports that while about 1 in 5 people will experience a mental disorder within a year, only half of them will seek treatment. Moreover, only 20 percent of depressed teens ever receive help. Among all populations, and especially among rural and minority populations, seeking mental health treatment is considered taboo. Lack of information about mental illness and fear of discrimination for seeking mental health care create a barrier to seeking help and to encouraging others to seek help.
In addition to the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, there is a lack of access to mental health providers in the project area. All nine counties in the project area are designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Gathering several providers together in one place allows the target audience to become familiar with the resources available in the community and to learn about the services they provide and how to contact them for help.
The students/youth involved in Youth Mental Health Day live in rural areas and are impacted by racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities, that only serve to increase the stigma associated with receiving mental health care. Four years ago, we created a program that targeted the youth to help dispel the stigma associated with mental illness. The youth of tomorrow can have a huge impact on how people view mental illness. Hence, if we educate them at an early age, taking preventive measures, perhaps the barriers will begin to fall and we can build bridges into the community.
The ultimate goal of the Youth Mental Health Day program is to improve the mental health of the project area, thus improving overall community health. To enhance outreach, CMRC developed a plan to present a suicide prevention program utilizing the evidenced-based SOS Signs of Suicide program and invited local students to their facility. CMRC asked area mental health providers and law enforcement to set up informational displays and interact with the students. In response CMRC received better interaction from the students when the program was presented at their facility than in a high school gymnasium. Inviting students to the facility helps break down the barriers associated with talking about mental health issues and address the stereotypes associated with mental health facilities. First person interaction allows the students to make connections between their experiences and community resources. To augment this experience, licensed counselors are available for immediate intervention on site during the program.
As the plan was implemented and based on the evaluations, including surveys from the students and feedback from the school districts, the program evolved to include presentations from area providers about mental health issues affecting teens, prevention of risk behaviors, and promotion of techniques to help students cope. These presentations adapted the same evidence-based format used by the SOS Signs of Suicide program to teach students the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and encourage them to seek help. The specific agenda each year is based on feedback from the consortium members, students, schools, and collected data.
Frankie J. Johnson
701 Northside Drive
Newton, MS 39345