By Rebecca Williams-Agee, MSW, MPA
PREP/Adolescent Health Coordinator, South Carolina Dept. of Health and Environmental Control
In South Carolina, the Adolescent and Young Adult Behavioral Health (AYA BH) CoIIN team has been focused on leveraging existing initiatives to increase depression screenings with appropriate follow up care for AYAs. To achieve this, the SC team has strategically infused the MCH perspective within existing initiatives to share their work and expertise, including the Ending the Silence campaign being implemented by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in South Carolina. At a recent SC CoIIN team meeting, Paige Selking with NAMI SC joined us to share the work their team is doing to implement the Ending the Silence program in schools and communities across the state.
According to NAMI’s website, the Ending the Silence program “teaches the next generation about mental illness through an educational package designed to teach students on three grade levels: upper elementary, middle school, and high school about serious mental illness. This easy to use package uses stories to humanize serious mental illness and teach that these illnesses are no-fault brain disorders. Students also examine the role the media plays in perpetuating stigma.”
In addition to direct education to youth, there are trainings for their supportive adults, such as parents and school staff, to address the same topics addressed in the student trainings. Perhaps most important is that someone with a lived experience related to mental illness is always part of the training. In an effort to bring more youth into the planning and connecting being done by the SC CoIIN, it became important to the group that we support the NAMI efforts to include the lived experiences of youth in their presentations and have made those connections wherever possible. For example, the CoIIN team has connected NAMI with the Statewide Child Well Being Coalition, and they will be bringing the Ending the Silence training to this body once large gatherings can be held again. Additionally, NAMI will be presenting to the State Alliance for Adolescent Sexual Health and the training will include insight from a young person living with mental/behavioral health issues. Both of these bodies include professionals and community leaders who work directly with adolescents and young adults.
Check out NAMI’s national webpage to find your state’s local NAMI chapter.
Continuing on Amidst a Global Pandemic
Considering the limitations that have been placed on many organizations as a result of the CoVID-19 pandemic, the needs of organizations that reach out to youth have changed. To adapt to our changing environment, the CoIIN team is working is shifting the ways in which we support these organizations, including publicizing and featuring NAMI’s online trainings that have been organized since the start of quarantines across the state. Work to identify and include organizations that represent youth through youth voices has also been an increased focus during this time. Gender Benders, an organization working to ensure that the LGBTQ community, especially transgender individuals, has access to safe spaces, resources, and support, is one organization that has not yet been represented in the SC CoIIN work, but has accepted an invitation to join the efforts at our April meeting. Gender Benders has a strong youth leadership component that will center important voices into the conversation related to supporting the emotional well-being of AYAs across SC.
As the work in SC continues to progress in ways we had not originally planned due to COVID-19, we are taking this opportunity to think and collaborate outside the box to determine where the needs of AYAs in SC are the most immediate. Our hope is that the voices of youth will guide our collaborations and outreach more and more as we are pushed further into areas where we have not historically thought to go.