Continued from Part One and excerpted from a magazine article I wrote in 2001. This describes a symposium for educators, "Mental Illness in the Classroom," held in March 2000. Have we made progress since then?
It occurred to me that educational programs, such as those that NAMI provides for its members, would be beneficial to a wider public audience; that education about mental illness for teachers and the public in general could help reduce stigma. As a development director at Cal State Hayward, I thought that the university had a unique opportunity to provide this kind of public education. The CSU system trains approximately 70 percent of the state's teachers. I reasoned, if we were to train teachers about mental illness, we could expand our educational reach exponentially. I began to explore the possibility of providing this kind of training.
As a result, on March 11, 2000, a symposium for educators entitled "Mental Illness in the Classroom - How To Recognize It and Who Can Help" was held at Cal State University, Hayward. The response to the symposium was overwhelming. It sold out a month in advance to a maximum capacity audience of 550 in the campus theater. More than 150 people asked to be put on a waiting list.
A planning committee of 60 members representing 25 collaborating organizations met for 11 months prior to the symposium. At its first meeting in April 1999, the committee broke into work groups and created a vision of what the symposium would look like and what it would accomplish. They envisioned everything about the symposium in living Technicolor. Because everyone took part in crafting the vision, everyone took ownership of the project. Enthusiasm was palpable.
The symposium program included 12 workshops that were divided by student age groups -- elementary school through university levels. Four plenary sessions covered the following topics: A Developmental and Cultural Perspective of Typical and Problematic Behavior; Mental Health Resources Available to Students; Hope and Recovery - What is Possible: A Consumer Panel; and Next Steps - Continuing the Dialogue.
The title of the symposium, "Mental Illness in the Classroom," was chosen deliberately. The committee believed that it was time to use the words "mental illness" without embarrassment or self-consciousness; that semantic dancing about how to talk about mental illness somehow contributes to its stigma.
Breast cancer, prostate cancer, AIDS, HIV, and homosexuality are now spoken about openly. The hope is that common, public usage of the term "mental illness" will help desensitize the issue. The time is way past due to point to the proverbial elephant in the midst of our societal living room. One in four or five will suffer a form of mental illness at some point. Family members will be affected. The community will be impacted. Eventually, the elephant stomps on everyone.
To be continued.