Increasing Mental Health Awareness & Addressing Stigma

by Victor “Blue” Paat
Sonoran UCEDD Trainee 2018-2019
Undergraduate Certificate in DD; Diversity Fellow

Blue Paat, young Filippino man on a bridge in a parkI had the privilege of working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Arizona (NAMISA) for my Diversity Fellowship. I worked with the lead presenters of the “Ending the Silence” outreach program, meant to educate youth (middle and high school aged children) and organizations around Tucson about mental health and illness to end the stigma concerning these topics. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an organization that works to improve the lives of those being affected by mental illness. NAMI has local organizations to better serve communities around the United States, and provide services based on their four main principles: to educate the population of support programs and information; to advocate politically for mental illnesses and positive mental health; to listen to the responses of the population to uphold current issues or distribute urgent information; and to lead the initiative of understanding the importance of mental health to fight stigma and promote understanding of mental illness.

NAMISA provides helplines and resources in pamphlets, bulletins, and on their website. They have a dedicated crisis lines to provide the callers with immediate information and resources when experiencing concerns over mental health. NAMISA also runs events and programs that provide current services, care, and supports for those with mental illness.

Ending the Silence program logoThe “Ending the Silence” program was designed as an outreach program to different schools and organizations to provide information on mental health and illness in an effort to remove stigma around these topics. This program works to explain the historical, social, and cultural constructs of how mental illness affects the lives of people and to improve societal understanding of mental illness. Specifically, they discuss how certain ideas and misconceptions are incorrect, and what information the audience can trust as a legitimate source of information.

The 50-minute, research-based (Wahl, 2018) program consists of two presenters – a lead-presenter, who talks to the audience about mental health and illness, and a young adult presenter, who is  living in recovery with a diagnosable mental health condition. Audiences listen to the lead-presenter and are given facts, then listen to the young presenter tell their story of what they felt and how they overcame obstacles. A frequent question that is asked by audiences highlights the distinction of developmental disability and mental illness. This allows for a discussion that influences how audiences may perceive mental health, mental illness, and developmental disabilities. Previous research has shown that the program improved attitudes towards mental health/illness and knowledge of available resources after receiving the information (Wahl, 2018).

Lead presenters are instructors that are trained to deliver the information about mental illness; but through improvements in delivery, the audience can more fully retain that information (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Considering the bulk of information is given by the lead presenter, it is important to see if how a lead presenter gives information to an audience is different across presentations. For example, an “Ending the Silence” presentation may provide resources and information that has been shown to cause change in attitude and knowledge, but these outcomes may vary depending on the training and charisma of the lead presenter.

To examine if there is a difference in how the presentations are given, Dr. Jared Schultz (Sonoran UCEDD Research Director) and I created an evaluative tool to observe how an instructor engages the audience in the information. Engagement by the instructor may encourage or discourage remembering helpful information, and in turn describe how the social constructs of disability and mental illness may improve if more information is remembered. The evaluative tool used to measure the presentations, specifically, to score the quality of the questions by the lead presenter through effective levels of learning (Bloom 1956; Anderson & Krathwohl 2001). Using Bloom’s Taxonomy and other studies, we determine if a question is weak or strong in engaging the audience’s cognition, and higher level of thinking. For example, questions that want the audience to remember simple facts or numbers would be considered weak question. Questions that require the audience to apply information to scenarios or provide opportunities to apply the information they have learned would be considered strong questions.

My experience with NAMISA was truly rewarding. I helped reach out to communities and organizations that benefited from the “Ending the Silence” presentations, and I was able to see how the team within NAMISA worked together to achieve their four principles. They were all very kind in offering services and have taught me a lot of the policies and importance of providing information. I appreciated how many resources they had available, and how high they value their programs and organization. It was a pleasure to work with them and their initiative to end the stigma of mental health, and I look forward to utilizing the evaluative tool we have created with the community as a whole in ending the stigma attached to mental health.

National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Arizona logoTo learn more about NAMISA and their programs, or to set up an "Ending the Silence" presentation, please visit their website at or call (520) 622-5582.


Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Blooms Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Longman: New York.

Bloom, BS (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Volume 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: McKay

Wahl, O., Rothman, J., Brister, T., Corrie, T. (2018). Changing student attitudes about mental health conditions: NAMI Ending the Silence. American Psychological Association.


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