Teen Mental Health: Problem Prevention
The Binion family faced the loss of their son to suicide with a plan of action that involves educating kids. Nurses also have the opportunity to help teens learn about mental health and to provide them with tools to get help if they need it.
When 17 year old Jordan Binion died from suicide, his parents, Deborah and Willie Binion, were devastated. The fact that he had been suffering from mental health issues prior to his death made the loss especially acute. As they tried to find their way forward through intense grief, they resolved to do their best to help prevent this from happening to other young people and their families.
They realized that one of the problems contributing to increased suicide rates among teens in a sad lack of knowledge about mental health in general and what help is available. With 1 in 5 persons, adult and teen, being affected by mental health problems, it was clear the challenge was huge. They resolved to do their best to provide whatever help they could by establishing the Jordan Binion Foundation, a non-profit whose goal is to use the curriculum in schools to help provide information that is more thorough and complete.
As nurses, we experience the frustration of seeing teens and children coming to doctor's offices, clinics, ERs and inpatient facilities with wide-ranging mental health problems. What we don't see as frequently, is a cohesive approach to addressing the needs of teens as relates to staying mentally healthy. As a society, we often don't seem to have the willingness to put money and effort into helping our young people stay healthy, help others, and seek help if needed.
Mental illness is not considered to be preventable. All the education in the world cannot necessarily prevent a mental breakdown but education can and does help in other ways, including offering young people the tools to identify problems early, helping them reach out to peers in trouble and decrease the burden of bullying, shame and ostracism often unfairly paired with a diagnosis of mental health problems.
Jordan Binion's family decided to speak out by advocating legislative changes and by developing a full-scale educational curriculum for high school students. Deborah and Willie Binion, co-founders, have made it their mission to reach out to as many young people as they can with a curriculum that is now in use in Washington State High Schools. Deborah Binion explains, "The curriculum is evidence-based and consists of six modules.
1. The Stigma of Mental Illness
2. Understanding Mental Health and Mental Illness
3. Information on Specific Mental Illnesses
4. Experiences of Mental Illness and the Importance of Family
5. Seeking Help and Finding Support
6. The Importance of Positive Mental Health
She goes on to say, "It also gives teachers the necessary literacy to foster positive mental health initiatives in schools, helps create safe and supportive
environments for their students, and aids in mental health promotion and prevention, ultimately transitioning the school setting to be part of a comprehensive pathway to mental health care access and support for youth."
As nurses, we are acutely aware of our deficiencies when it comes to addressing young people and their mental health. We all want to be part of finding a way forward and maybe this renewed focus on education and coping skills is part of the necessary focus.
What are some practical ways we can contribute to better mental health for our teens?
Support initiatives that identify and discourage bullying. While bullying has been around since the dawn of time and affects adults as well as children, children are uniquely affected by bullying because they lack the range of coping skills possibly needed to discourage this behavior from peers. We can be nurse advocates for kids in schools, clinics, doctor's offices, hospitals-wherever we find ourselves. We can stand up and show the compassion that identifies us as safe people for crisis management.
Identify kids at high risk and address their needs intentionally with referrals and other interventions. As nurses, we sometimes have ringside seats to the first contacts kids have with the health care system. We can be part of advocating for them, teaching them tools to cope and instructing them on what to expect. Certain factors may increase the risk of developing mental health problems (Mental illness - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic) in teens and adults. Those include:• Having a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with a mental illness
• Stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one's death or a divorce
• An ongoing (chronic) medical condition, such as diabetes
• Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury), such as a violent blow to the head
• Traumatic experiences, such as military combat or being assaulted
• Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
• Being abused or neglected as a child
• Having few friends or few healthy relationships
• A previous mental illness
Teach- Learning the signs of symptoms of mental health problems can give young folks the courage to go ask for help before the condition persists and perseverates. By teaching we may also help decrease the associated stigma attached to mental health problems, giving courage to friends who want to reach out but don't know how. Information holds the power to decrease fear and removing fear opens doors to treatment and longer term solutions.
Advocate- As nurses, we have the power to see problems and be part of instituting changes. Maybe we can encourage our schools to adopt a curriculum such as the one developed by the Binion Foundation, or we can come up with comprehensive ways to address mental health education in health departments, primary care offices, churches, community centers-wherever we interact with young people. We can also speak to our local, state and national leaders about taking steps to encourage mental health education.
The Binion family has used a tragedy as a launching pad for good. Their efforts to promote mental health education in high schools is already producing fruit as some of their feedback shows. But there is much work to be done nation-wide to help our young people grow into healthy adults and as nurses, we can be an integral part of working toward solutions.
How one family is educating students, teachers on mental health - NBC NewsLast edit by tnbutterfly on May 8
May 7This is such an important topic, and hats off to the Binion family for taking positive action in the wake of tragedy. We can all take action to support local, state, and federal efforts to build up the infrastructure for delivering mental health services. I'm often frustrated in primary care (in CA) that there is such limited help available for those who truly need it. And while we're waiting for our infrastructure to catch up with society's needs, part of the teaching nurses can do is to reinforce basic coping skills with teens and their families. I've noticed that so many individuals (of all ages) simply do not have healthy, effective, coping skills in place-- but once they do, they're empowered and can go a long way toward helping themselves on their path to recovery.May 7What's also a problem is even when mental health care is available, so many families can't afford it. They either have no insurance, or the insurance they do have has high deductibles and co-pays. Health services are only good if people can access them.May 8Quote from Lane Therrell FNP, MSN, RN, HTCPThank you for your comment. I agree completely--teaching basic coping skills can go a long way to helping kids in crisis and empowering people is a big part of the puzzle of making a difference. JoyThis is such an important topic, and hats off to the Binion family for taking positive action in the wake of tragedy. We can all take action to support local, state, and federal efforts to build up the infrastructure for delivering mental health services. I'm often frustrated in primary care (in CA) that there is such limited help available for those who truly need it. And while we're waiting for our infrastructure to catch up with society's needs, part of the teaching nurses can do is to reinforce basic coping skills with teens and their families. I've noticed that so many individuals (of all ages) simply do not have healthy, effective, coping skills in place-- but once they do, they're empowered and can go a long way toward helping themselves on their path to recovery.
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