New Course Teaches Valuable Lessons in Behavioral Health

2017 High School Alliance Project

High School Alliance Behavioral Health students Isabeau Tholen (left) and Bailey Troudt (right) hold up the “Messenger Bird” they created for their stigma project.

This spring, the High School Alliance added a new course to the catalog. Over the course of the semester, high school students from various local schools have been attending UNMC’s High School Alliance as part of the program “Intro to Behavioral Health: Concepts and Careers from Family Therapy to Forensic Psychiatry.” The course was developed in collaboration with faculty and staff from the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN), the Munroe-Meyer Institute and the High School Alliance.

“Our goal for this course is to equip students with core concepts in behavioral health, including the criteria for common mental health diagnoses, cutting edge treatments and the public health impact of untreated disorders,” High School Alliance teacher Michele Merrill said. “Students have been fortunate to hear from behavioral health researchers and clinicians, who talk not only about their field of expertise and practice, but also their educational background and their career path.”

On March 29th, BHECN Director Howard Liu M.D. spoke to the students about clues that would tell them if they would make great psychiatrists, as well as what it is like to be a psychiatrist. He mentioned that lifestyle is a big perk of working as a psychiatrist, as many of his colleagues have second careers in which they have the opportunity to explore other interests. After the presentation, students broke into small groups to discuss psychiatric case studies, and put what they had learned in the course throughout the semester to practice.

On April 10th, students had the chance to show off their hard work so far when they presented their stigma projects. Each project combated the existence of stigma surrounding mental health in different ways.

One group introduced “Advocate You,” a social media platform they had created to highlight people with mental illnesses who had been self-advocates, sharing stories as well as inspirational images. In the few weeks the accounts have been up, they have gained hundreds of followers on Instagram and Twitter.

Another group created “The Messenger Bird,” an origami bird with information about depression. Each fold of the bird contained different resources and information. The group came up with the idea of creating a bird after they spoke with their teacher and realized that a regular brochure might not hold people’s attention as well as an interesting, 3D tactile object. Watch a video and download instructions here to make your own "Messenger Bird".

Bellevue West junior Brooklyn Larimore was part of a group who created a website to educate middle school aged children on using “people-first language,” which is the use of language that focuses on people rather than merely defining them by the mental illness with which they suffer. “Every day you learn something valuable from this class,” Larimore said. “It gets more in-depth than the average high school psychology class. It’s more clinical and hands on.”

The High School Alliance students learned about managing their stress levels on April 12th, when Penny Kowal Ph.D., certified Heartmath mentor coach and trainer, gave a presentation to the students on resilience. Kowal spoke about the Heartmath stress management system, and directed the students through the heart-focused breathing technique as well as explaining how certain emotions can be depleting on the body while others can be renewing.

-Sophie Ford

HS Advocate Project