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Friday, September 17, 2021

Being mindful of mental health

ACTIVE MINDS / COURTESY
ACTIVE MINDS / COURTESY

UC Davis alumni, students team up to educate junior high students about mental health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five children between the ages of 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness in their lifetime.

In light of this, Julia Schleimer, a UC Davis alumna and Junior Specialist at the UC Davis Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute, created Talk about Change, a mental health education program for secondary school students. Schleimer teamed up with UC Davis faculty, mental health organizations, mental health professionals and student clubs to deliver a preventative mental health curriculum to ninth graders at Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School in Davis.

Schleimer’s inspiration for creating Talk about Change came from a class she took in her senior year at UC Davis, in which she was required to create a proposal for a feasible health initiative in the community.

“After I graduated, the idea kind of stuck with me and I kept thinking about how important and necessary this kind of program would be,” Schleimer said. “Mental health is one of the most important things in our life because it affects so many different areas of our life; it connects to our physical health, overall happiness and our ability to achieve our goals, so I thought having a program like this would be great for students in all aspects of their life.”

Each Talk About Change session consists of lectures that consist of teaching students about mental illness, hearing personal stories from UC Davis students and alumni and participating in activities and discussions.  Lecture topics cover mental health issues like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, bipolar disorder and suicide.

Schleimer first created Talk about Change in Spring 2015, seeking help from psychologists and UC Davis students to create a curriculum for a week-long program.

However, this fall, Schleimer has created a curriculum to spread across the Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High students’ entire semester. Schleimer hopes that this longer curriculum will allow her to observe greater results.

“We spaced out the sessions because it gives students more time to think about these things and ask questions, and it creates a larger opportunity for change,” Schleimer said. “What we’re measuring is a change in knowledge, reported and intended behavior [for example, discrimination] and attitudes. I think spreading [the curriculum] out gives us a greater opportunity to see change. “

Undergraduate students from clubs and organizations, including UC Davis’ Active Minds, helped Schleimer to create this curriculum and lead activities and discussions for the kids.

“I think it’s really important to go in and talk to these kids about [mental illnesses] because they are about to go into high school, where they start feeling things that they haven’t felt before,” said Brenna Williams, fourth-year psychology and evolutionary anthropology major and president of Active Minds. “If [they’re] not educated about the normalcy of those feelings and that it’s okay to reach out for help, [they could feel isolated].”

The undergraduate members are also present at Talk about Change events to help the teenagers if certain topics are triggering for them. If a student leaves the room­­ — even to just use the restroom — a UC Davis volunteer steps out with them.

“We are there to make sure that [the students] are okay emotionally with what was being said [in the class],” said Raquel Medina, a fourth-year psychology and human development double major and Active Minds member. “If they want to speak up or if they have a problem going on, we acknowledge them and we’re there to send them to the counselors.”

For her efforts, Schleimer received a fellowship with the Mental Health Association of San Francisco’s Center for Dignity, Recovery and Empowerment, where she works with leaders in the field of mental health and stigma reduction from all across the world. Currently, Schleimer is applying to graduate school, but hopes that the undergraduate members of Talk about Change will continue her work.

“We found statistically significant results the first year, and I’m hoping we’ll find the same improvements in year two. That is a really great indicator that what we’re doing is actually making a difference,” Schleimer said. “Hopefully, it can be continued somehow.”

Written by: Fatima Siddiqui – features@theaggie.org

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