Community News
For Contest Leaders Different Paths Lead to Same Goal
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 18 page 14-14

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 there."

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 counselor."

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 supporter.

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 issues."

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 Ang3689@aol.com.

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