GARDEN GROVE, Calif. – There is strength in numbers. Even though the NAMI on Campus High School Program on Garden Grove High School’s campus may be small in size, its mission isn’t.
“Stigma is the greatest social threat among people including students like us,” said Ben Colin, a senior at Garden Grove High School.
Ben and his friends who are part of the NAMI on Campus High School Program and students of the advanced placement psychology course on campus organized an early walk before classes began Friday. The students hope that people who pass by them on their march, who happen to be living with mental illness or knows someone who does, will know that students at Garden Grove High School are standing up for them.
NAMI is short for the National Alliance on Mental Illness which is a grassroots organization of families and individuals whose lives have been affected by serious mental illness. Members advocate for lives of quality and respect, without discrimination and stigma for everyone. NCHS Clubs are student-led clubs that raise mental health awareness and reduce stigma on campus through peer led activities and education.
Ben said he personally knows people who have mental illnesses and the best way he can support them is through his advocacy efforts and to talk to people in a compassionate way.
“I would want to see if they need help or anything. If they do, I would seek out support for them and the first start of support would be the person like me who would approach the person,” Ben said.
The high school senior said his AP psychology teacher, Jessica Bartolotti, has been a big motivator for him in organizing the walk and thinking about ways to make the campus and his community a more inclusive place for everyone. Bartolotti was the first teacher in the Garden Grove Unified School District to teach AP psychology in 2006. She now has 179 students enrolled in the course.
“My mission is to teach kids about mental health awareness and to teach them about psychology. I think it’s an important topic to have now while they’re young, especially with the numbers that we continue to see rising with kids that are affected by mental illnesses in some way,” said Bartolotti.
She said she began her career as a marriage and family therapist but dreamed of being able to touch more lives. She was inspired to become a psychologist after a close friend in high school died by suicide.
“It’s kind of like throwing the pebble in the pond. The ripples are my students,” said Bartolotti.
Ben is planning to attend college after high school and is thinking about becoming a history teacher. The walk drew about 12 people and was completed before first period began.