High School Students Take Aim at the Stigma of Mental Illness

Dr. John Kane, VP, Behavioral Health Services, North Shore-LIJ Health System (center) is joined by members of the behavioral health staff at Zucker Hillside Hospital following an exciting day at the premiere mental health facility.

GLEN OAKS, NY – What happens when you put more than 50 dedicated high school students with laptops together in one large room at Zucker Hillside Hospital?

As their proud parents and staff observed last week, you get uniquely original, computer-generated programs and apps designed specifically for one purpose -- to break the stigma attached to illnesses of the brain.

Thanks to a new program funded by the National Institute for Mental Health and philanthropists Donald and Barbara Zucker, motivated students interested in pursuing careers in mental health sacrificed this summer’s beach experience for a six-week internship under the guidance of John Kane, MD (an internationally known psychiatrist and a leader in the research and treatment of schizophrenia) and a group of doctors and therapists to create new social models for attacking the question of stigma.

During a three-hour presentation, the students (hailing from Brooklyn Tech, Dalton, Herricks, and Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, to name a few) presented their projects to a team of judges, explaining how social media and original programs could be used to re-educate the general public about mental illness and biases based on a lack of understanding.

The themes ran from analytical to serious; from thoughtful to humorous. One of the winning teams, for example, designed a website (keymotion.org) geared at helping teens deal more effectively with such common emotional situations as depression, stress and anxiety. Another team examined the depiction of mental illness in award-winning movies; yet another created an interactive program attempting to measure society’s understanding of mental illness through man-in-the-street-type questions.

Following the presentations and announcement of the winning teams, Dr. Kane spoke to the dedicated students. Describing mental illness as a “major public health problem,” he thanked all the young people for participating.

“It is our hope that you will continue with your work, not only on your individual projects, but in helping us to combat the problem of stigma attached to mental illness. It has been a true privilege to work with you this summer,” he said.

 

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