A campaign to promote mental health and combat teen suicide is going to the island’s middle and high schools this September via a series of mental health fairs that kicked off last Wednesday at the Francisco M. Sablan Middle School.
Organized by the Garrett Lee Smith Youth Suicide Prevention Program, the mental health fairs promote suicide prevention by advancing mental health and by giving CNMI youth a chance to interact with each other and have fun through collaborative activities, while learning healthy coping skills such as mindfulness.
At Wednesday’s fair, the school’s students played, interacted, and built relationships with others through games and activities. They were also given a chance to sign a pledge to support each other against bullying and harassment.
Laura Kyonka, a mental health specialist with the Public School System, said that stress is impacting people at a younger age, and that there is a higher prevalence of at-risk behaviors and unhealthy coping skills.
“What we wanted to give them today is an opportunity to build up healthy ways of handling stress and knowing that they’re not alone in facing those challenges,” Kyonka said. “With the rising rates of youth suicide, and rising rates of youth mental illness, we are trying to just provide a support network so that each of these kids know that these people support them and love them.”
Through the mental health fair, the students are exposed to information, communities, people, and skills that are important for their “protective factors.”
The mental health fairs are also targeted at parents and the school as a whole, as well as to fight the stigma attached to the word “mental.”
“People should not be afraid when they hear the word mental as it does not necessarily have to be with a mental illness diagnosis,” said project director Ana Ada, adding that certain events, such as the recent Super Typhoon Yutu, could give anyone traumatic experiences and short-term mental challenges.
The idea of bringing together the community as support system, through mental health fairs, could help people who are not strong enough emotionally and mentally to overcome those challenges.
The mental health fair will be at the Saipan Southern High School today, from 12:30pm to 3:30pm (will include students from Hopwood Middle School).
To seek help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24 hours. To help and for more information on suicide prevention, contact the GLS Youth Suicide Prevention Program at 664-5483/5433 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.