Kentucky Psychiatric Medical Association Supporting Mental Health Education
On the ABC television show “What Would You Do?” host John Quiñones and his crew report on split-second and sometimes unexpected decisions made by people who think no one is watching when things get tough. Do they freeze or ignore what’s going on around them? How often do they really do the right thing?
A mental health education program for high school students in Kentucky has a similar goal. The essay contest is designed to show high school students that it’s okay and sometimes even necessary to tell someone when you overhear dangerous or destructive talk about everything from eating disorders to gun violence and cutting.
The program also helps provide resources for students, parents and teachers about what they should do, whom they should tell, and when it is all right not to keep a secret.
The “When Not to Keep a Secret Essay Contest” is one of several initiatives of the Kentucky Psychiatric Medical Association with more than 350 physician members. The program was recently expanded, thanks to an ongoing PRMS contribution.
“Without PRMS support, we would not have been able to grow this important and popular youth program,” said Bonnie Cook, executive director of the Kentucky Psychiatric Medical Association and its charitable arm, the Kentucky Psychiatric Medical Society Foundation. “PRMS has been a dedicated supporter of our Foundation for the last six years.”
The contest, launched in 2000, was originally open only to students in Lexington and Louisville but in 2012 was expanded to all 10th and 11th graders throughout the commonwealth. Each school may submit up to three entries – about 100 essays are received each spring.
Entries can be real-life or fictional. In the past, student writers have discussed important topics including depression, teen suicide, eating disorders, physical fighting, relationship violence, self-esteem, bullying, substance abuse, sexual gender issues, weapons and more. In the essays, adolescents are asked to identify a trusted adult they would turn to.
“This gives them the opportunity to proactively think about sources of support that they could turn to if they hear threats of violence or destructive behavior,” Cook explained.
Essays are pored over and judged by a panel of psychiatrists, community members and a student. The first place winner receives an iPad, while the second place winner gets a $150 gift card. The teacher of the student who pens the winning essay also receives a $200 gift card. The Foundation also provides a pizza party for winners, who often receive publicity in their local newspapers.
Stephen Sills, PRMS Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, said: “PRMS congratulates the students and teachers who take time from their busy schedules to dig deep and write essays based on potential real-life scenarios. We also applaud the Kentucky Psychiatric Medical Society Foundation for continuing to shine a light on important topics, including mental health and teenagers, which is a particularly vulnerable population.
The contest isn’t all the Foundation is doing. It also provides grants to community groups for outreach to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and to provide training on integrated care and recovery. Recipients have included the National Alliance on Mental Illness Kentucky and Mental Health America of Kentucky.
Several years ago, the Foundation partnered with The Kentucky Physicians Health Foundation’s Impaired Physicians Program to help produce a DVD to address impaired physicians. The goal is to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone unable to safely perform his or her duties because of alcohol abuse, other drug abuse or mental illness. The DVD is available through the advocacy program, which monitors 125 to 160 physicians annually and averages 40 new cases each year.
“It’s designed for people to recognize whether they or someone else has a problem and to provide resources on where to go for help,” Cook explained.
PRMS has sponsored and sent representatives to the Foundation’s past three conferences, including the “Forging the Future in Psychiatry, Mental Health & Recovery Conference,” held in May 2015 in Louisville. During the program, mental health professionals and advocates learned about new research in the fields of psychiatry, mental health and neuroscience and recent advances to understanding and treating mental illness.
Topics included everything from mental health and diversity to an update on marijuana and cannabinoid compounds and PTSD and veterans.
“PRMS is always present and always lending their support and encouraging us,” Cook said.