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Advocacy In Action

Join NASP in Celebrating May as Mental Health Awareness Month

By Anastasia Kalamaros Skalski

For more than 70 years, mental health professionals have been celebrating May as "Mental Health Awareness Month." NASP will join our mental health colleagues again this year in a variety of activities designed to bring greater awareness to the importance of mental wellness programs and school–based services for students with mental health needs.

On May 3, 2011, thousands of individuals and organizations in America will kick off Mental Health Awareness Month by participating in the National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. The primary mission of the national day is to increase awareness about children’s mental health. The theme for this year’s national event is "Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health" and will specifically address building resilience for young children dealing with trauma.

National Activities

Funds for the national activities and programs associated with National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day (Awareness Day) are provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), resources from other federal agencies, and the donations of national professional organizations. The executive planning group for this event is made up of representatives from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, and Zero to Three. NASP joins 51 other organizations as supporters of this event.

The national activities being sponsored as part of the Awareness Day celebration include an art exhibit hosted by the American Art Therapy Association and a starstudded tribute to the resiliency of youth who have dealt with and overcome trauma in their childhood. This tribute will be held in the Shakespeare Theatre–Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, DC. Additionally, a U.S. Congressional briefing will be held in conjunction with the House Mental Health Caucus and will ask policy makers for their support of HR 751, the Mental Health in the Schools Act, sponsored by Rep. Grace Napolitano (CA–38). This bill promotes comprehensive school–based mental health programs through an infusion of funding for the Safe Schools, Healthy Students program and an expansion of that program’s purpose beyond school violence prevention to mental health promotion and prevention. You can send a letter to your elected officials requesting their support of this bill through the Advocacy Action Center (http://capwiz.com/naspweb/home).

NASP Needs You to Participate in the National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day Activities

State organizations, school districts, and individual practitioners are invited to participate in Mental Health Awareness Month by sponsoring your own awareness events. This is a terrific opportunity for state school psychology organizations to lead or partner with other educators in sponsoring mental wellness promotion and/or prevention activities and disseminating related materials and/or resources. In the past, state associations have used this event as a month to launch school mental health campaigns including advertisements, newspaper articles, radio and television segments, and dissemination of information about children’s mental health, or even legislative activities such as participating in bills or legislative briefings focusing on children’s mental health. Individuals and school districts can participate by featuring mental health promotion and prevention activities such as making school announcements, distributing NASP handouts addressing student mental health needs, putting articles in district and school newspapers, handing out flyers at a local grocery store or mall, or doing presentations on children’s mental health needs for parents and school faculty.

The NASP website is loaded with materials that you can use to help promote mental health wellness and resiliency in children and youth. Many of these materials will help you engage students, parents, teachers, and school administrators during Mental Health Awareness Month. Please visit the NASP website at http://www.nasponline.org/communications/mental-health-awareness.aspx for more information, ideas, and resources.

The SAMHSA website (http://www.samhsa.gov/children/index.aspx) also has information available to support you in selecting and implementing an Awareness Month activity. Also on the SAMHSA website, are other tools that can be used for planning an Awareness Month event, including:

  • Tips for using social media
  • Guidelines for holding a related dance, music, or visual arts event
  • Frequently asked questions about Awareness Day
  • A template for state associations to declare formal proclamations about the importance of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day
  • Information on how to develop articles or op–eds that address children’s mental health issues
  • Planning guides and checklists and much, much more

Early Childhood Materials

The 2011 National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day program will also emphasize the critical importance of mental health and wellness in young children. The SAMHSA website is loaded with terrific materials geared to early childhood populations that might be helpful to NASP members and state association leaders interested in disseminating and sharing materials or planning events or other activities to improve awareness. The resources posted on the SAMHSA website are divided into two categories: (a) comprehensive early childhood websites (http://www.samhsa.gov/children/earlychildhood_part1.aspx) and (b) topic–specific resources addressing issues like adoption, living in military families, school readiness, etc. (http://www.samhsa.gov/children/earlychildhoodmat.aspx).

NASP members and state associations that decide to sponsor awareness day activities should complete and submit a "pledge form" (http://www.samhsa.gov/children/Pledge_insert_508.pdf) so that the efforts of school psychologists are publicly recognized. NASP hopes that you will take the time to send a letter to your elected officials, share a resource about children’s mental health, or make a presentation to your local school board about the importance of school mental health services. We are interested in hearing how you or your state association celebrated this important day or about any other activities you have planned for Mental Health Awareness Month. Together we can all become "Advocates in Action" promoting mental wellness and access to mental health services for all children and youth in need.

Anastasia Kalamaros Skalski, PhD, is NASP Director of Public Policy.