In just three months, Jessica Hanna presented Mental Health Basics training to nearly 700 area high school students at 14 area high schools.
A trainer with Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana (MHANI,) Jessica’s presentations in late 2018 and early 2019 provided insight and resources for students and teachers. A grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) supports the presentations focusing on depression, anxiety, ADHD and the damaging effects of stigma.
Jessica’s job is to help students better understand the realities of mental illness and the barriers that keep people from getting help.
Early in the sessions, she pushes students out of their comfort zone, asking them to name terms that they’ve heard to describe someone with a mental illness. Out of politeness, they hesitate, but then, the words start to come out.
“Crazy.” “Psycho.” “Nuts.”
“We’d write it down on the board and it was really hard to read,” she said. “It made them feel very uncomfortable. That was the point. Stigma equals negative label.” Jessica tells them it also leads to bullying.
Jessica’s straight-ahead style encourages students to speak up during the sessions and afterwards. Students often hung back to ask about their own feelings of depression or their concern for others who they now realized were struggling.
“I barely met these kids and they would stop me and they would want to talk,” Jessica said, recalling a student who said his girlfriend had talked to him about suicide.
“I just thought she was making a bigger deal out of things than they should have been,” he said. One shared his struggle with being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. One shared that she hears voices sometimes, and that her family is not willing to help her.
Jessica stays behind and gives these students her full attention, making sure to connect them with a school nurse or counselor so they can get the support they need.