Promoting Mental Health Awareness in School — Talking

It’s OK to Talk About Mental Illness

To Demystify Mental Health We Must Define It

Group of students in a hallwayThere are a lot of myths about mental illness. Due to stigma, or negative attitudes about a group, and lack of understanding of what mental illness is, both students and educators are being left in the dark. This lack of clarity can lead students to feel isolated, misunderstood and even destructive.

In order to say it’s OK to talk about mental illness we must first remind ourselves that mental illness can affect anyone, is not the result of character, personal defects, or poor upbringing and are treatable. When we can accurately point out, name and define mental illness we can have a common vocabulary to talk about it. By defining we demystify.

Showing its OK

Students need to actively see that it is OK to talk about mental health. 1 out of 5 adolescents are diagnosed with a mental illness any given year, but only 20% of those that need treatment will receive it. Moreover, children living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are much more vulnerable to mental health issues and less likely to have access to treatment.

School leadership in general can help students see that communicating their challenges is ok and is one of the ways to take care of yourself. Showing it’s OK can range from setting up lunchtime safe spaces, to running awareness programs, to ensuring safety protocols are in place. Regardless of the measure, students need to feel supported by the entire school community.

From: Three Powerful Messages for Promoting Mental Health Awareness in Every School, NAMIBlog, April 10, 2015, by Hakeen Rahim. Hakeem Rahim, EdM, M.A. graduated from Harvard University and from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, start a consulting firm, and become NAMI Queens/Nassau’s Let’s Talk Mental Illness™ (LTMI) presenter, despite his struggles with bipolar disorder. Hakeem has also testified in front of Congress and featured in USA Today. Find out more about him at

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