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A program for middle and high school students, families and educators is aiming to raise awareness for mental health across the Upstate. Ending the Silence, a program from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), educates teens and those around them on dealing with mental illness.

Paige Selking is the project director for Ending the Silence in South Carolina. She said the program provides a presentation that runs 50 – 60 minutes, depending on the audience. Programs cater to different audiences – students, families and educational staff. 

The student presentation looks at warning signs of mental illness, facts about mental health conditions, suicide prevention and how to get help for themselves or a friend. Programs for adults include information about how to speak to teenagers and school staff or parents, depending on the audience. 

“Each program has two presenters,” Selking said. “The lead shares a PowerPoint presentation with the goal to end the stigma of mental illness, recognize the warning signs and understand the importance of early intervention. Each participant also receives information on resources available.”

More than 36,000 people across the state have attended an Ending the Silence presentation in the past three years. According to data from NAMI, in October, more than 40 students talked to a presenter with concerns for themselves or a friend. Additionally, 18 students struggled with suicidal thoughts and were given assistance by their school’s guidance counselors right away.

Half of mental health issues begin by age 14, according to NAMI. In addition, the CDC reports that the suicide rate among teens and young adults rose 56 percent from 2007 to 2017. More than 17 percent of high schoolers considered suicide in 2017, with that number estimated to be three times higher for teens who identify as LGBTQ+. 

“Research has shown that adverse childhood experiences such as poverty, exposure to violence, divorce, the death of a family member or having a parent incarcerated all have a profound effect on the mental wellbeing of a child,” Selking said. “Traumatic events, as well as the pressure of navigating a period of time when they are seeking more autonomy, facing peer pressure and grappling with their identity can also trigger mental health symptoms.”

Ending the Silence aims to reach kids before any serious actions are taken. The program has been presented at schools, churches, homeschool groups, juvenile detention centers, summer camps and more. Selking said that it is not for elementary age children, but parents and school staff are welcome to attend an adult presentation. 

To request an Ending the Silence presentation, groups and schools can contact NAMI South Carolina at 1-800-788-5131, visit http://namisc.org/programs/schools or email endingthesilence@namisc.org to locate an area program coordinator.

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