With mental health at the forefront of national discussion – specifically, the mental wellbeing of teens – a new club on the Turlock High School campus is looking to amplify the conversation on its own campus and destigmatize mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20 percent of young people face mental health issues, and 50 percent of adult mental illness cases had signs and symptoms of their condition by age 14. Statistics like these led THS Instructional Coach Cathi Schali-Lopez to start a NAMI on Campus Club for students, raising awareness for mental health through peer-led activities and education.
“In the teen years, they’re trying to find who they are and in that self discovery we want to give them positive outlets to share their experiences, as well as inform them and have support for them,” Schali-Lopez said. “It’s critical for any age, and especially at that young adulthood, adolescent age.”
Despite being a fairly new club, NAMI on Campus at THS already has nearly 20 members. Students are working to create a dialogue surrounding mental health, Schali-Lopez said, eliminating the stigma around the issue through advocating and educating their fellow classmates.
For example, one NAMI on Campus event encouraged students to take a pledge promising to be kind to all and to write down kind words that might help someone else going through a rough day. The club is also hosting a “Sole to Soul” 5K in May to promote awareness and raise funds for mental health.
Schali-Lopez added that activities promoting kindness and anti-bullying on high school campuses are essential, especially with current events.
Nikolas Cruz, the shooter who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, was reported to a behavioral clinic twice in 2016 due to mental health concerns, but was never admitted.
“It’s always been an important part of what we do in the educational realm, but because of recent incidents it’s brought to light, ‘Wow, this is important and it needs to be part of what we do on our campuses,’” Schali-Lopez said.
NAMI on Campus isn’t just for THS – Schali-Lopez is also working to start a chapter at Pitman High School, she said, and on Wednesday, NAMI Stanislaus gave a presentation titled “Ending the Silence” at both high school campuses.
NAMI member Rhonda Allen educated the schools’ Health classes about the symptoms of mental illness and what they can do to help themselves or friends that may be struggling with one of its many faces, like bipolar disorder, anorexia, depression and countless others. Many students are either afraid to speak up about their challenges or simply can’t recognize them, she said, and she encouraged them to end the fear surrounding mental illness.
“Stigma is the biggest reason that people don’t get help,” Allen said. “Reducing stigma is our number one hope for you as students of this school, that you would be more sensitive to people with a mental health challenge and be supportive of them.”
Schali-Lopez hopes to see the NAMI on Campus Club at THS grow and is excited for the prospect of a club at the Pitman campus in the coming months. In the meantime, she hopes that students can continue to spread one universal message.
“Each mind matters. We all matter.”