Approximately 22% of children
will develop a mental health disorder with severe impairment by the time
they reach 18, and it's likely most adolescents will encounter a peer
with a mental health disorder, suggested researchers.
Ann Lippincott knew nothing about mental illness when her daughter,
just out of college, was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
Lippincott educated herself quickly, however, and has since devoted her
time and energy to teaching others about mental illness, with the hope
of reducing the stigma too often associated with it.
‘The 'Mental Health Matters' program is able to increase the students' understanding of mental illness, reduce the associated stigma and share wellness practices.’
Lippincott, an emeritus professor of education at UC Santa Barbara's
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, worked on behalf of the Mental
Wellness Center in Santa Barbara to develop Mental Health Matters, an
innovative, interactive curriculum for sixth-graders that was introduced
to Santa Barbara-area schools nine years ago. The series of five,
one-hour lessons is integrated into the sixth-grade Language Arts
Today, Mental Health Matters, a program of the Mental Wellness
Center, is in place in 35 classrooms in schools in Goleta, Santa
Barbara, Montecito and Buellton, helping 11- and 12-year-old children
learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of six major mental illnesses:
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and stress disorders,
major depression, bipolar disorders, eating disorders and
The goal is to increase the students' understanding of mental
illness, reduce the associated stigma and share wellness practices.
But, does program actually work?
Until now, mental health advocates and teachers at the local schools
thought - and hoped - it was making a difference, but they had only
anecdotal evidence to that effect. Enter Hannah Weisman, a doctoral
student in the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology
at UCSB, and part of the Mental Health Matters teaching team.
and her graduate advisor, Maryam Kia-Keating, an associate professor in
the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology, designed a
study to find out. The findings, which appear in the October issue of
the Journal of School Health
, suggest the program is reaching its goals.
"We would like to believe that by educating young people before
stigma has reared its ugly head - knowing that stigma is the number one
reason people do not get the help they need and deserve - our efforts
are making the difference we were hoping they would make," said
According to Kia-Keating, the researchers saw an increase in the
students' knowledge of mental illness and a decrease in the stigma
associated with it. In open-ended questions, for example, students wrote
comments such as, "I used to think that people with mental health
disorders are the ones to blame for their disorder; now I know that it
is not the person's fault and they have not done anything wrong," and,
"I used to think mental health disorders are contagious; now I know they
"I'm definitely a fan," Kia-Keating said of the Mental Health
Matters program. "We were very excited to find such an innovative
program that was embedded in the school curriculum and was addressing
mental health issues, in particular how we reduce stigma, and how we
"Mental health issues are part of life,"
Kia-Keating continued. "I think the more that we're able to talk about
mental health in an open way, have kids be able to have their questions
answered, and not have it be a topic that's hidden from them, is
"The Mental Wellness Center is proud to partner with UCSB to
evaluate the efficacy of our Mental Health Matters program," said
Annmarie Cameron, the center's chief executive officer. "This study
begins to support our belief that educating youth with mental health
facts and anti-stigma messaging will improve their attitudes regarding
self-care and peer acceptance, and overall wellness messaging increases
The Mental Wellness Center is a Santa Barbara nonprofit organization
dedicated to meeting the needs of individuals and families affected by
mental illness, through support, education and direct services.