September is recognized as National Suicide Awareness Month and the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) of Iowa have an afternoon presentation for students and a virtual presentation 6 p.m. tonight via Zoom open to the public. Brittany Freeman of NAMI Iowa said the presentation is focuses on mental illness as to best target the root causes for suicide in youth.
“Our presentation, ‘Ending the silence,’ is actually more of a mental health awareness presentation,” Freeman said. “So while we do talk about suicide, the entire presentation is not about suicide awareness, however, it is timely for us to be doing this presentation now in September because it’s the national month to be talking about mental health and suicide awareness and so I’d imagine that was part of why Creston schools wanted to do it in September.”
The topic of mental illness in youth is urgent as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the rate of suicide.
“There’s a lot of reports out there right now, Mental Health America just did one for 2021 about how the risk for youth is increasing and as schools go back in session a lot of things are put under stress that weren’t over the summer and so it would be a good time to talk about mental health at the beginning of the school year, in my own personal opinion.”
The public presentation will focus on how parents and teachers can create a comfortable space for youth to talk about their struggle.
“While our student presentation talks about, ‘What is mental health? Why is mental health important? What are the warning signs for a mental health condition?’ Warnings signs for suicide, talking about coping strategies and treatment methods, giving that message of hope,” Freeman said. “Our staff and family presentation talks more about how your teachers, counsellors, parents, guardians can be supporting their K-12 students.”
Freeman said she visualizes her approach to youth mental health as a triangle where the adults represent the boundaries that focus on students in the center.
“So I think about it in terms of a triangle and students are in the center of that triangle and for us to have staff and support for that student, we need all parties working equally,” she said. “So if we’re going to talk in geometric terms, it would be an equilateral triangle, and so you have your students in the middle, your parents and guardians, your counsellors and your teachers at either either of the points and in the presentation for staff and family it talks about how those three parties can work together and what that support would look like and how to kind of recognize the warning signs in your students and in your children help create a better system of a community where mental health is addressed and talked about adequately.”
The presentation will touch on how adults can recognize and cope with their own mental health so the dialogue can become more balanced.
“That’s definitely an undernote of the presentation, we do have a general community presentation as well for adults, that’s something that creston schools has not yet requested, but I would say all of our presentations have the general understanding and nuance that to be able to take care of your child or your loved one, you also need to be taking care of yourself and so these warning signs apply to helping your loved ones and also applies to recognizing these things within yourself,” Freeman said.
Freeman said finding help doesn’t always start with seeking a therapist, and for youth especially, it typically begins with relying on family, friends and school counsellors to listen and understand. This starting point can help gauge whether or not a diagnosis and treatment are necessary.
“When I think about communicating mental health issues, especially with someone who’s under 18, talking about youth, I always emphasize that the people in your life are your support system as well, so you don’t need to be seeking a therapist or a mental health provider to start seeking help,” she said.
To access the online presentation, visit the Creston Panthers Facebook page.