The Public School System’s Mental Health Team currently has 20 staff members, which means that roughly all positions within the team are filled, according to Walter Mendez, project manager for the team.
In a guest appearance on KKMP radio last Thursday, Mendez said the CNMI’s public schools each have at least one student counselor and that some schools are looking into bringing in one more counselor for students.
On the topic of mental health awareness, community outreaches, and the many currently ongoing mental health programs in the CNMI, Mendez said the CNMI is in a “transformation period” where mental health, mental illness, and other such topics are starting to be more widely accepted and understood.
“We are in a transformation period, where we as a people and as a community are learning what mental health is, and what mental health is not. …As we start to build awareness and [reach out] to the community and everybody gets to understand what mental health is, it’s going to be more commonly known amongst our people,” he said.
Mendez would like to see pre-conceived notions and stigma on mental health and mental illness replaced with a willingness to understand one’s situations and a willingness to seek help when needed.
“We don’t look at [mental illness] as ‘Somebody’s crazy.’ That’s not what it’s about. It’s about finding that balance between the struggles and the happy times, and figuring out [if you] can avail of your resources, can you find out if you need help, and [knowing if] you’re willing to go get help, which is a challenge in and of itself,” he added.
Alongside Mendez were representatives of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and CHCC’s Community Guidance Center.