SYRACUSE The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is offering an innovative educational program free of charge to local schools. NAMI Syracuse raised funds by selling T-shirts in order to do so.
NAMI is a non-profit, grass-roots organization of families and friends, with more than 1,000 chapters nationwide, dedicated to eradicating mental illnesses and improving the quality of life of all those affected by them.
“Mental illness will strike one out of four children at some point in their lives,” said NAMI Syracuse board member and Marietta resident Karen Winters Schwartz. “While we are educating our children about the dangers of drugs, smoking and alcohol — while we are teaching them about the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes and other illnesses — we are often totally silent when it comes to neurobiological brain diseases such as bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. “
She said these illnesses are very treatable, and recovery is possibly— especially if caught early.
“Most individuals develop the early signs of mental illness in middle school and high school, but are uneducated about these illnesses, and because of shame and stigma, are afraid to seek the help they need,” she said. “Knowledge is powerful, but it must be taught.”
NAMI’s educational program, called “Breaking the Silence,” is an easy to use, fully scripted lesson plan with suggested activities for upper elementary, middle school and high school. The program is the result of the efforts of veteran teachers who are also parents of individuals with mental illnesses. It is an innovative teaching package that includes lesson plans, games and posters on mental illness that are age appropriate for each grade level. Through the curriculum, students learn the warning signs of mental illness, that mental illness can be treated successfully and how to recognize and combat stigma.