CYFL employee, Micaela Cunningham, got to co-present with Suzette Southfox, the Education Director to the Children’s Initiative on September 21, 2021. They held a webinar on Learning from Lived Experience and Apps outreach to 33 education specialists working with students at middle and high schools throughout San Diego County. As the presenters and group of education specialists worked through the slides, conversations were held that highlighted key moments in what the realities of mental health look like coming from the perspective of people who haven’t just simply lived through it, but have also survived it and kept themselves and their families together. Mental health is something everyone has and mental illness doesn’t discriminate on creed, race, or class. 

As the presentation went on, Suzette and Micaela led the webinar on best practices in communicating effectively to someone who may be suffering and the insidious barrier to services: stigma. Stigma acts as a barrier to services and recovery, either through self-stigma (self-limiting beliefs about someone’s own abilities due to their mental health for example) or externalized stigma (the beliefs and words held and spoken by others reflecting their views on mental health). It can be insidious as it’s not always intended to harm or even be commentary on someone’s mental health but intention does not negate impact. 

Micaela and Suzette were able to provide examples of stigma, such as talking about traffic patterns (“Did you see the crazy traffic on the 8? It was impossible to drive in!”), asking about someone’s mental health (“You seem a little crazy, have you been taking your meds?”), or using diagnoses as adjectives (“That girl is so bipolar!”). After going through these examples, person-first language was used to craft messages that were kinder and focused on the person rather than the illness. The presentation ended with an outreach webinar with information about the free apps developed by NAMI San Diego and how the education specialists could use them in their day-to-day with students, parents, and school staff. 

The Children’s Initiative started in 1992 by local San Diego foundations and community leaders coming together to advocate for policies and services that supported children, youth, and families here in San Diego County. To see more of the projects currently being done by the Children’s Initiative, check out their website here: