Promoting mental health at upcoming hoops games

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(Posted Jan. 2, 2020)

By Christine Bryant, Staff Writer

A local organization has a message for students: “Talk about it. Ask for help. You are not alone.”

To help spread that message, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Clark, Greene and Madison counties is partnering with Madison County Prevention and area schools to host several activities at upcoming high school basketball games as part of a “Mental Health Awareness Rocks” initiative.

These activities will send the message to students, as well as those in attendance at the games, that it is OK to talk about mental health issues.

“The basic idea is that stigma discourages young people and people in general of seeking help,” said Kathryn Hitchcock, director of outreach and development for NAMI of Clark, Greene and Madison counties. “What we know is, like all illnesses, the sooner we receive effective help, the better the long-term outcome.”

According to NAMI, one out of every five families in the United States has a member who suffers from a serious mental illness.

“When we talk about it, we break the stigma and that allows us to seek help,” Hitchcock said. “This is true for adults, as well as young people.”

As part of the initiative, activities will take place at the Jan. 10 Jonathan Alder vs. London boys’ basketball game at London and the Jan. 17 West Jefferson vs. Madison-Plains boys’ basketball game at Madison-Plains.

“We will have resource tables at the game with good information about prevention, mental health, substance use and giveaways,” Hitchcock said.

A raffle will split the proceeds between the schools for youth prevention activities, as well, she said.

“Green is the color for mental health, so cheerleaders and players will wear the special green T-shirts, and you’ll see green socks and green hair bows, too,” Hitchcock said. “Those coming to the game will receive a free raffle ticket if they are wearing green.”

All four schools are either planning activities in the week leading up to their games, such as presentations to students, or are planning pre-game activities.

Each school also has a group of teens who are spearheading youth-led prevention.

“Youth listen to other youth much more than they listen to adults in their lives,” Hitchcock said. “For instance, youth-led prevention participants can address bullying, substance use and mental health. This is an important initiative and is bearing fruit.”

Melissa Canney, student support specialist with London City Schools and co-advisor of Teen Leaders of London, says students are striving to empower young people to address pressing issues within their community.

“We want to help people understand that they can talk about their feelings, they can ask for help and they are not alone,” Canney said. “There are resources available to help all of us to prioritize our mental health.”

This year, the student group chose to promote two topics, mental health awareness and healthy relationships.

As part of their initiative, the students designed a T-shirt with a Mental Health Awareness Rocks design featured on the front.

The deadline to order the T-shirts is Jan. 2. They can be purchased on the site, https://mhar-store.itemorder.com/sale.

“They hope people will purchase the shirts and hoodies and wear them proudly, especially at the game as a visual statement supporting their goal to promote mental health awareness,” Canney said.

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