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Meet the Kansas Teen Who’s Trying to End the Stigma Around Mental Health in His Community

This past year, students from Wichita, KS, and its surrounding communities came together to start the USD 259 Mental Health Coalition (MHC) in order to bring awareness to the stigma that surrounds mental health. I had the opportunity to talk one of the creators of the MHC, Wichita South High junior, Ngoc Vuong. Nogc is very involved in his school as well as the community. While speaking to him he told me that he hopes to peruse a career neurology or psychiatry. Ngoc says that Mr. Lichti, the community coordinator of Wichita NAMI, has been huge support for the MHC.

What is the MHC?

The USD 259 Mental Health Coalition is a student-led group composed of students throughout Wichita and nearby communities. Our purpose is to advocate for mental health by initiating effective, innovative efforts within our community that will help end mental illness stigmas and support those affected by mental illness.

We hope to educate others about the importance of mental health and coordinate with different people, schools, and community organizations in order to do so.

What made you want to start such a program?

The reason why I decided to start the USD 259 Mental Health Coalition was a realization of just how severe mental illness is and how there are so many misconceptions and stigmas that revolve around it. Mental illness has affected the lives of many people at my school. It has affected the lives of many people I know. The same can be said by many other students. Despite the prevalence of mental illness stigmas and the severe repercussions that have come out of society’s attitude towards mental health, I have come to realize the power of the youth.

I have come to understand the potential for change that comes out of students organizing and taking initiative for a cause they care about. I decided to start the USD 259 Mental Health Coalition because I know there are many other students across this city who want to advocate for mental health.

And our impact is greater when we work together. We can change this community’s mindset on mental illness. We can tackle mental illness stigma in a way not seen before, a way most innovative, a way most supportive. We can end the stigma.

How do you think students in your community will benefit from MHC?

One of the main things the USD 259 Mental Health Coalition is hoping to do is to address and undermine the factors that make it so hard for a student to speak up and seek help when it comes to their mental health. We understand the importance of students having a strong support system from their family, friends, teachers, and the rest of the community. I think students in our community will benefit from the actions of the MHC in the sense that we will help educate the community about how to show support for those living with mental illness. We hope to give an outlet for students to be able to speak out.

We hope to foster an environment at our schools where students feel safe and valued and know that there will be someone to be there for them whenever they need it.

Such goals will be strived for through our mental health initiatives such as our current partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), organizing educational workshops, producing a documentary and a series of short films on mental illness, and the gradual implementation of a peer-support/peer-counseling program for each school. Furthermore, we hope to benefit our students through hosting a public forum, bringing in numerous guest speakers to focus on the specific aspects of mental illness and stigma, organizing a poetry slam/circle and an art show event, and working alongside community leaders and mental health advocates to develop a city-wide plan to advocate for mental health.

All of our events have been thoroughly discussed and analyzed between members of the USD 259 MHC to ensure that our events will help address mental illness stigmas, support, and advocate for students affected by mental illness, and/or educate the community on the importance of mental health through a creative, effective, respectful manner. Most importantly, we keep our fellow students in mind whenever we discuss the different events that will constitute the mental health efforts of the USD 259 Mental Health Coalition. That being said, I think all of our events are crucial towards this community’s mental health efforts for they help give greater insight to the youth perspective on mental illness.

What impact do you hope the MHC has?

In the long-term, I hope the USD 259 Mental Health Coalition will expand to not just include schools within the USD 259 area but the greater community as well. We want to ensure the vitality and sustainability of our mental health efforts. We want to be as informed as much as possible. We want our events and other mental health initiatives to be accessible to everyone regardless of geographical proximity. It is a great desire of mine that this group will have the opportunity to work closely with community leaders and different organizations to develop and follow through with a comprehensive plan that will one day end the societal perpetuation of mental illness stigma, and make it significantly easier for people to get the help they need. We hope students from other communities will have the opportunity to plan their own mental health efforts.

If you would like to learn more about the USD 259 Mental Health Coalition

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Ivan Castillo
Written By

Ivan is a 17-year-old high school student from Kansas. He is passionate about LGBTQ+ rights and international affairs. His free time is spent reading, writing, learning, and running.

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