Although school classrooms cover a wide range of subjects, mental health and mental illness are often absent from the curricula and textbooks. In an effort to increase children’s understanding of mental health, the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County developed and implemented a successful “Mental Health Matters” curriculum in local elementary and middle school classrooms.
“Mental Health Matters” teaches students facts about mental health problems, leading to the understanding that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anorexia, bulimia, attention deficit and anxiety disorders are treatable and can happen to anyone – even children and young people. The program helps students to:
• Fight stigma and ignorance that surround mental health disorders and issues
• Learn the warning signs of specific mental health problems
• Understand that mental health disorders are treatable
“The ‘Mental Health Matters’ curriculum is designed to introduce sixth grade students to mental health issues, reducing the stigma that is too-often associated with mental health disorders,” said Ann Lippincott, Associate Director of the Teacher Education Program at UCSB and Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County Board Member. “The learning activities in this curriculum are interactive and flexible.”
Jackie Bluestein, fifth and sixth grade Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) teacher at Washington Elementary, recently implemented “Mental Health Matters” in her classroom.
“The curriculum was fantastic as it is activity based and engaging for the students,” Bluestein said. “The students participated in their own learning the whole way through. They took the activities seriously, asked insightful questions, and responded to each other beautifully.”
Initially developed in collaboration with the Goleta Union School District Special Services, the instructional unit is intended for use with sixth grade and middle school students. In just the past four years, more than 200 students in four local school districts (Cold Spring, Hope, Goleta Union and Santa Barbara) have participated in this curriculum. Each of the five, 45-minute lesson units provides hands-on learning activities and video presentations introducing basic facts concerning mental health and mental health disorders.
Dr. Angela Andrade, Assistant Dean of Students and Mental Health Coordinator at UCSB, is among the many parents (and students) providing positive feedback. “It is really the best way to reduce the stigma, change attitudes and ultimately change lives,” Dr. Andrade said. “I know it will make a huge difference for them.”
The Mental Health Association offers participating classrooms the support of a teaching team, trained to lead the “Mental Health Matters” units. The team meets with the teacher to tailor the learning activities to meet the needs of the students and the subject matter of their current curriculum.
In addition to introducing basic mental health knowledge, the program aims to benefit personal awareness. Mental health issues often first appear in the adolescent and young adult years, and this program helps students to be aware of and how to cope with issues they or those close to them may face in the coming years.
“Besides learning about the symptoms, treatments, diagnoses, etc. of mental illness in other people, the students can now be more aware of their own feelings,” Bluestein said. “As they start to grow up and encounter some of the most socially difficult years of their developing lives, the challenges can be too much to bear for some adolescents. Through this program, the students learn how to deal with these feelings.”
For more information about mental health services available in Santa Barbara County, please call the Mental Health Association at (805) 884-8440 or visit www.mhainsb.org. The Mental Health Association is a private, non-profit organization providing support, housing and advocacy to adults and families affected by severe mental illness.