BREAKING THE SILENCE: TEACHING SCHOOL KIDS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS
"One of the biggest pluses of ‘Breaking the Silence’ is that the kids now view and talk about mental illness with the same ease and sensitivity as cancer or heart disease."
Peter Fitzpatrick, Middle School Health Teacher, Hicksville, NY
"Breaking the Silence: Teaching the Next Generation About Mental Illness" (BTS) is an educational package designed to teach students on three grade levels, upper elementary, middle school, and high school about serious mental illness. It was created in 1999 by the NAMI-Queens/Nassau Education Committee with funding from NAMI’s Campaign to End Discrimination and the support of NAMI-NYS.
This attractive, easy to use educational package for three grade levels, upper elementary, middle school and high school, 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.
Striking posters, included in the package, which teach the warning signs of mental illness, or, in the case of the middle school package, a popular anti-stigma game called "The Brain Game", reinforce the information and messages taught. A "Brains Can Get Sick Too" poster, which features a cartoon character, has also proved particularly popular. In addition, each educational package includes learning activities with cross-curricular ties, annotated bibliographies, web sites, and resource organizations that students can use to delve into the topic in greater depth.
We continue to update BTS and create additional material with each printing. A new edition of both elementary and high school plans, which should be available in October, will feature the story of Miss New York State, Jessica Lynch, who overcame her struggle with depression as a child and adolescent and went on to become a Miss America contestant. Also featured in the new elementary edition will be a Billy the Brain puppet with suggested role plays for teaching about mental illness. The high school plans will also have four new pages including a lesson on mental illness and the brain, as well as more true stories about young people leading successful lives despite their disability.
BTS receives accolades from many quarters. Teachers who use our materials consistently rate them very effective or effective in dispelling myths and stereotypes about mental illness. NAMI chapters around the country have enthusiastically promoted BTS as have other mental health organizations, agencies, and hospitals. To date we have received orders from forty-three states as well as foreign countries including Japan, Australia, and Virgin Islands. This year we were proud to be honored by the Easter Seal Foundation; in addition, thirty-one Friendly’s Restaurants on Long Island promoted BTS through a counter canister campaign which raised close to $2,000.
We are anxious to share our ideas for successfully promoting BTS and are piloting a how to Tool Kit which is currently available as a zip file download from firstname.lastname@example.org. Funding permitting, we hope to have an Acrobat Reader version on our website later this Fall. We encourage you to use our website, www.btslessonplans.org, to share your successful school outreach strategies so they can be included in the Tool Kit.
BTS is available for upper elementary, middle and high schools and costs $20 for each grade level or $55 for all three, plus shipping and handling. BTS Posters are also available for $7.95 each. Copies can be ordered through NAMI Queens/Nassau, (516) 326-0797 or email@example.com. For more information please visit www.btslessonplans.org.
NAMI Queens/Nassau Education Committee
Janet Susin, Chair; Lorraine Kaplan, Louise Slater
NAMI's Education, Training and Peer Support Center