People decide to help with the APA Alliance's "When Not to Keep a
Secret" essay contest for various reasons.
For example, Edwina Zettler, M.D., a Lexington, Ky., psychiatrist, got
involved as a resident because her mentor encouraged her to do so. "And
I had grown up in Kentucky," Zettler said, "so I thought that I
would basically call high schools around Kentucky... and it kind of grew from
The reason that Theresa Walton came on board was that, in spite of her
numerous duties as executive director of the Kentucky Psychiatric Association,"
I was a former teacher and, being involved in mental health through my
job, I thought it was very important."
Regardless of their reasons for signing on to the contest, however,
supporters generally find they are faced with similar challenges, and the
largest appears to be getting high school teachers to participate.
"Most high schools have multiple English teachers, and you can never
get to them, only to the guidance counselor," Zettler explained."
And then you are dependent on the guidance counselor relaying
information to the English teachers.... It's sad that I call my alma mater
every year, and it's an excellent school, but the school has never
participated. I wonder whether the message is getting through the guidance
Even if the message gets through to teachers, they may decide not to
participate. "From what I understand, teachers are inundated with these
types of outside projects and can select only a few each year," Rimal
Bera, M.D., pointed out. He is chair of the Orange County (California)
Psychiatric Association's Public Affairs Committee and a contest
Nonetheless, calling high school guidance counselors and pitching the
contest to them sometimes leads to teacher participation, Zettler said.
Offering a monetary award to the teacher of the winning state essayist can
help too, Walton added. "And this year, we had the most participation we
have ever had, and that is because we partnered with, or got the information
out, through the suicide prevention group that is part of the [state]
department of mental health."
And once you have teachers signed on, Bera stressed, they often participate
in subsequent years as well. "We now have a core group of teachers who
are quite involved," he added, "and we are seeing growth every
year, primarily with the help of these teachers."
Of course such growth is gratifying. But the greatest reward he has
received from assisting with the contest, Bera said, "is that I have
seen this contest help decrease the stigma of mental illness and greatly
increase the students', teachers', and schools' awareness of mental illness
Alicia Muñoz is both an APA Alliance member who has worked on the
essay contest from its start as well as current chair of the contest. The
greatest compensation she has received from her work with the contest, she
said, is "knowing that [it] is being used as a component of an overall
primary violence prevention strategy in the high schools. The second biggest
reward is knowing that [it] brings an additional opportunity for the
psychiatric community to interface with the school community and with allied
groups to promote mental health education and illness prevention."
For Walton, the greatest fulfillment that has come from helping with the
contest was being able to read the essays submitted. "I loved reading
them; it was the school teacher in me," she said.
Zettler, too, enjoys reading the submitted essays. "We've had so many
essays that have done well at the national level. It makes us proud of our
citizens, our state."
Information on how to participate in the essay contest is available
by contacting Angela Poblocki, executive director of the APA Alliance, by mail
at P.O. Box 285, North Boston, N.Y. 14110-0285; by phone at (716) 648-4705;
and by e-mail at