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Doctor Encourages High School Students to Speak Up about Mental Illness


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As part of Thriving Schools’ effort to focus on addressing mental health in school environments, a Georgia Region psychologist recently spoke to a group of high school students on topics related to mental health.

Chaundrissa Smith, MD, Area Chief of Behavioral Health at Kaiser Permanente Georgia and a licensed clinical psychologist, spoke to a group of 30 Mt. Zion High School students in Jonesboro, Georgia who are currently enrolled in Health Sciences courses and/or are active participants in the school’s Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) club.

Dr. Smith encouraged students to speak up and reach out for help if they or someone around them experienced adverse mental health issues following a traumatic event. “If untreated, mental illness can trigger a negative bodily response or manifest itself in the form of risky behaviors for that individual,” she said. “Often times, the health from the neck up has a direct impact on our health from the neck down.“

She added that individuals struggling with mental health issues are more commonly found than we tend to believe – and are nothing to be ashamed of.

HOSA is a national career and technical student-led organization offered to students who have career aspirations of being health care professionals. Through involvement in this organization, students are exposed to a variety of health care related topics, careers and trends.

Sonya Dunbar RN, BSN, and Chaundrissa Smith, MD

Mt. Zion’s HOSA club is facilitated by Sonya Dunbar RN, BSN, the Health Sciences lead teacher in Georgia’s Clayton County Public School District. She was recently named the 2016-2017 Clayton County Teacher of the Year and also received the 2017 Kaiser Permanente Georgia’s Thriving Schools Honor Roll Award.

When asked about the importance of exposing her students to active health care professionals, Dunbar said: “Having a physician from Kaiser come and speak to my students is one of the most meaningful experiences I can provide for them. The first-hand knowledge, education and experience of a mental health physician such as Dr. Smith is extremely valuable to students who are considering entering the medical profession. I keep stressing the need for more of them to choose behavioral health due to growing needs in our community and society at large.”

Depression and other mental health issues can lead to isolation, relationship strain and lost productivity in school or at work. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. — or 43.9 million people — experience mental illness in any given year. Opportunities like the one at Mt. Zion High School help reinforce Kaiser Permanente’s national Find Your Words campaign. Launched in 2016, the goal of this campaign is to help reduce the stigma around depression and have a conversation necessary to bring awareness and understanding to mental and behavioral health issues.

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