CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Adolescence is the time we come into our own. It is also the time young adults who will develop a mental illness first experience it, whether in sudden mood swings, secret compulsions, or an alarming desire to lash out. Unfortunately that describes 20 percent of all young adults, meaning 20 percent of the kids you see passing to and from school are dealing with something they don’t even know how to phrase.
Into that quagmire steps Nancy Eigel-Miller, founder and director of 1N5. Eigel-Miller’s husband died by suicide in 2008. There was no prior indication he was depressed, let alone suicidal. Afterwards she committed herself to the cause of mental health, with special focus on those pivotal years of adolescence. 1N5 is the result. It’s a nonprofit whose mission is to increase awareness about mental illness by providing programming to schools in Greater Cincinnati.
Eigel-Miller decided to focus on schools specifically because of how little mental health programming they have to begin with. Yes, some might have a speaker or a trainer come just to “check the box,” but according to Eigel-Miller they have to do more than that.
“You have to change the culture. It has to become part of the language of the school,” she insists. “It’s a long process, an ongoing conversation.”
And it has to start young. That’s the assessment of Eigel-Miller and her team after they were allocated a research grant to examine the issue last year. The evidence-based road map they produced starts in Kindergarten. It includes education for staff, students, and parents. It also seeks to put counselors in every school, along with programs like Signs of Suicide and practices like mindfulness training. Lastly, it contemplates different plans for different schools, because not every school faces the same challenges or deals with them in the same way.
Schools are open to the idea. They have to be. Mental illness exacts an enormous toll on their resources. Conversely, schools that encourage open dialogue about mental health are better places for teaching and better places for learning. And besides, the kids want it. Where adults might be resistant, kids are carrying the conversation forward.
“They’re not afraid to talk about it,” says Eigel-Miller.
Of course, not every school has the funding available, so 1N5 offers them $5,000 in grants every year. That money comes in part from the nonprofit’s annual Warrior Run, where teams from area high schools and colleges compete to raise money, 100 percent of which goes directly back into the school system. (This year’s run is October 6, 2018; find more information here.)
So far, Eigel-Miller is encouraged by what she sees. Yes, there’s a long way to go before mental health jargon is in every school in the region. But as more people become familiar what 1N5 is able to accomplish, more are rallying to the cause.
“There’s a huge shift,” she says. “You can feel the tide turning.”
You can help take action on mental illness by donating to 1N5 or participating in the 2018 Warrior Run. For more information, visit their website.