By Stephanie Dinkmeyer, NAMI Communications Intern
For one week this summer, NAMI Minnesota will be spinning the idea of a traditional summer camp on its head. Progression Summer Camp, the brain child of Andrea Lee, NAMI Minnesota’s Transitions Project Director, is a new opportunity for local and out-of-state teens to learn about maintaining good mental health.
Held between August 12 and 16, the “camp” was grown out of a six-week class for teens living with mental illness, called Progression. NAMI Minnesota has been offering this course since 2011. Wanting to create a summer program for teens but concerned about vacation schedules, Lee created Progression Summer Camp. The classes provide the teens with tools to recognize and cope with anxiety, depression, stress, and other symptoms of their mental illness. It also gives them information about how to help their friends and loved ones understand what they are experiencing.
Lee notes, however, that the most powerful part of the class is the teachers. The two-hour classes are taught by a group of young adults living with mental illness, whom Lee calls “near peers.” “These amazing and talented young adults have been through many of the same challenges as the students, and are now doing extremely well,” she said. “They can provide advice, share stories, and help the students understand that things get better and they each have a terrific future ahead of them.”
The class also provides the teens with information about different treatment options. Lee intends the classes to be “a safe place to discuss good and bad experiences and share tips on what has helped.” Treatment options addressed range from traditional (therapy, medication, and hospitalization) to holistic (yoga, acupuncture, and meditation).
According to Lee, the response to Progression Summer Camp has been “very positive” so far. The program is being promoted on NAMI Minnesota’s website, youth website, Facebook, Twitter, and in local newspapers. Most of the attendees, however, are being referred by their case managers and schools or discover it from a NAMI email. Lee expects 12 to 15 participants, most local to the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, though one participant will be coming from Wisconsin.
Lee has great hope for the program. She wants the teens to learn coping skills and effective communication skills so they can “communicate how they are feeling with their families and other important people in their lives.” When asked what she hoped for the teens’ lives after the completion of the program, Lee said, “While the class offers terrific, very important education, my biggest hope is that the teens can walk away from the class feeling hopeful. I really want them to see that happiness is possible, they are not alone, and their future possibilities are limitless.”