NAMI Temecula Valley partners with local high school student clubs

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Great Oak High School students volunteer at a mental health event at the high school with NAMI Temecula Valley. Valley News/Courtesy photo

TEMECULA – The National Alliance on Mental Illness Temecula Valley and Great Oak Temecula high school’s NAMI on Campus, which is a student-led club, are helping students better navigate the pressures of distance learning and the stress COVID-19 can cause.

Designed to educate, support and empower students, these peer-led clubs are structured to be engaging and fun. Students have been given tool kits, materials and templates to run the program, which welcomes all students affected or interested in mental health topics.

Even before the worldwide pandemic, nearly three-quarters of mental health conditions were known to emerge by the age of 24. Often, students do not know how to recognize the warning signs of a mental illness or get access to help. NAMI aims to raise awareness to ensure students are educated and understand the resources and support available to them. Now more than ever, this support will be critical as recent studies have shown that social distancing and school closures because of the coronavirus can worsen existing mental health problems in adolescents and increases the risk of future mental health issues.

Great Oak High School is providing additional resources to parents this year during the pandemic. The school is hosting a parent webinar featuring speakers from NAMI Temecula Valley that will focus on how to navigate life during the pandemic. The webinar will feature topics ranging from steps they can take to keep their children on track with their mental health and how to talk with children about mental health as well as how to check on their child’s mental health.

“We are very enthusiastic about the impact NCHS clubs have on campus,” Dolores DeMartino, president of NAMI Temecula Valley, said. “NAMI’s mission is to reduce stigma and raise mental health awareness. We believe this program supporting high school-age students provides a tremendous benefit.”

“Many students are struggling because of being isolated at home during the pandemic so we have stepped up efforts in our club to help those in need,” Olivia Chmiel, student president of NCHS Club and high school senior at Great Oak, said, “Although club meetings may look different, we are doing everything we can to keep up on our awareness efforts and make resources known to those in our immediate community. We have several projects in the works. More than ever, it has been incredibly important to communicate with other leaders on campus; our school social worker, administration and other clubs on campus have allowed us to get a better idea of what student needs are and what resources are already available for us to utilize and amplify.”

Chmiel has been the student president of the NAMI Club at Great Oak High School for three years, when the school launched its student empowerment efforts and became a chapter of NAMI. Chmiel plans, schedules and runs weekly meetings, delegates tasks to the club board members and does the majority of the legwork to get events off the ground, such as writing letters to the district to get a social worker on campus and suicide training for teachers.

Current initiatives at Great Oak High School include Spread Kindness 2020, which is a kindness movement where, in conjunction with the Great Oak High School #GOKIND initiative, students are encouraged to perform random acts of kindness. A parent/student support webinar has been proposed, and the school is sponsored an online yoga event at the end of September in observance of Suicide Awareness month and is forming a team for the 5K virtual NAMI Walk, Saturday, Oct. 10.

Murrieta Mesa High School in Murrieta also has a NCHS club but students will not be participating until schools reopen.

NAMI Temecula Valley is a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is the nation’s largest nonprofit grassroots mental health organization. Founded in 1979, NAMI has more than 210,000 members and 1,200 affiliate groups dedicated to the improvement of life for those afflicted with mental illness and their loved ones. NAMI believes everyone with a brain disease is entitled to the same respect and access to services as those with physical illnesses.

NAMI Temecula Valley services Wildomar, Temecula, Murrieta, Menifee and Lake Elsinore, offering public education, compassionate support and legislative advocacy. The organization also focuses on reducing stigma for those with a mental illness.

Submitted by NAMI Temecula Valley.