Stopping stigma at its roots: Promoting mental health education in middle schools

APF’s 2012 Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship award recipient wants to prevent mental illness stigma in childhood by introducing mental health awareness in a school-based intervention program

For children with mental illness, stigma is yet another painful source of suffering. Hannah Weisman, the recipient of APF’s 2012 Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship, wants to prevent this stigma by introducing mental health awareness in a school-based intervention program, Mental Health Matters. Her hope is that the curriculum will help foster a more knowledgeable and tolerant generation of teens and adults. The program is designed to improve sixth-graders’ knowledge of mental illness so that they will be less likely to stigmatize those who suffer from it.

Negative attitudes toward individuals with mental illness are developed as early as kindergarten and often persist into adolescence. According to Weisman, younger children often confuse mental illness with physical illness and mental retardation. By the fifth grade, students are able to conceptualize mental illness in a more sophisticated manner, suggesting that middle school is a developmentally opportune time to provide education about psychological disorders and to decrease stigma.

Weisman hopes that the success of Mental Health Matters will encourage more kindness and less social exclusion of children and adolescents with mental illness and that similar prevention programs will be implemented in secondary schools everywhere. The $5,000 scholarship will make this important step in the future of mental health awareness and education possible.

The Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship is made possible by a generous donation from Drs. Violet and Cyril Franks and promotes the application of psychology toward the mitigation of the stigma of mental illness through support of promising graduate students, like Ms. Weisman.