By Lisa Lussier, Clinician I
On March 27th, approximately 150 8th grade students at Carteret Middle School were treated to a special presentation on mental health education and awareness, by Tricia Baker from Attitudes in Reverse (AIR.)
This presentation was made possible through a grant from the State of New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission.
Attitudes in Reverse’s mission is to create a community of understanding, kindness and empathy through mental health education and awareness. The goal of suicide prevention and education so that no one is misjudged or criticize, because of a biological-based brain illness was the prevailing message of the presentation.
The Baker family founded Attitudes in Reverse after the devastating loss of their son Kenny, who bravely battled depression and anxiety and the stigma of this illness. In May 2009, Kenny ended his pain and ended his life. Sadly the discrimination continued after Kenny’s death and from this discrimination the concept of AIR was developed by Katelyn Baker, Kenny’s sister. “Mental illness is like air. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It is all around us.”
The students and faculty listened attentively as Tricia Baker delivered her powerful message educating them about the signs and symptoms associated with mental health disorders and sources of help and support for themselves or others. Tricia’s trusty assistant was Goober the therapy dog, which the students got a chance to pet. The therapy dogs attend community events to help break down communication barriers and petting a dog releases good de-stressing brain chemicals. Each sixty minute presentation included a PowerPoint video and interactive discussion. Every student received a wrist band with the AIR website on the outside and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline embossed on the inside. Tricia emphasized to the students that the wristband represents the student’s availability to their peers to provide empathy, understanding and support in times of need. Students were also made aware of sources of support within their school community.
As of early 2017, more than 60,000 students have participated in Coming Up for Air presentations in New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Missouri, Arizona and Texas. It is the hope of the Baker family that students will recognize the warning signs of suicide and that the stigma associated with mental illness will be diminished, thereby saving lives.