NAMI Austin bringing free teen support groups to middle schools

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — When a teenager is affected by mental illness, knowing what to do to help can be difficult. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, wants to change that with help from a St. David’s Foundation grant.

“What we knew is that there was already a demand for free support groups for teens,” said Karen Ranus, Executive Director for NAMI Austin. “We had been getting a lot of calls from parents, counselors, and then when we were in the schools, teens were asking us, ‘Do you have a support group for teens?'”

But without funding, providing free care is a difficult task. That’s why NAMI applied for a St. David’s Foundation Opportunity Grant.

They were awarded a two-year $100,000 Opportunity Grant, and will be using it to launch #OK2Talk, a no-cost mental health support group program for teens. Two groups will be held at school-based sites: Goryzski Middle School and KIPP Austin Academy for Arts & Letters. Another group will be held in partnership with the nonprofit African American Youth Harvest Foundation.

Two professionals will allow for a “peer led” model.

“We know support groups, especially peer-led ones, can be extremely beneficial in help students to do really well,” said Ranus. “So even though there will be professionals in the rooms, they won’t be therapeutic groups, they’ll be very much focused on support so that it’s a safe place where teens can gather together, talk about what they’re working on.”

According to the CDC, the suicide rate among children ages 10 to 14 is up – more than doubling from 2007 to 2014. In 2014, 425 young people died by suicide. That’s more than those killed by car crashes.

“We want our kids to thrive, and we want them to do well academically. But they also need to be doing well emotionally and physically – it needs to be a holistic approach,” said Ranus.

Round Rock mother Anne Grady says the news is exciting.

“A lot of families are struggling and NAMI provides these free class which make them accessible to anybody,” said Grady.

Grady said NAMI helped save their family. Her son, now 13 years old, has a mood disorder, severe ADHD and a neurological condition, which leaves him constantly irritable.

“You feel desperate. You’re not only trying to help your child, you’re trying to stay afloat financially, emotionally and psychologically it’s exhausting.”

Grady says in many cases, families must pour a lot of their resources into caring for a mentally ill child, and that free support is critical to helping them get by.

She also says it’s important for students in middle school to understand these issues and seek help if they need it.

“Because things can spiral out of control very quickly. So if a child realizes they’re having some sort of mental health issue – whether it be a mood disorder like depression or anxiety – there is treatment available,” said Grady.

Although 50 percent of individuals begin experiencing symptoms by age 14, the average delay between onset of symptoms and receiving treatment is 8-10 years.

NAMI hopes they can provide a support system for students early, so they can get the help they need.

To learn more about NAMI’s mission or to donate, click here.

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