When asked about high school students and mental health, Debbie Williams-Hoak, boys and girls golf coach at Saline High School
says, “The suicide rates among high school students are staggering, and we must be brave, bold, and persistent to affect these numbers and bring them down. “It is difficult, however, to convince people, businesses, and administrations of the importance of this. To be honest, it is a constant battle and unfortunately, it takes an avoidable tragedy to wake people up sometimes. It is no longer okay for any of us to go through life with blinders on to remain silent. We all have to do our part to erase the stigma of mental health awareness and to make a positive difference in people's lives.”
A former LPGA Tour player, Williams-Hoak is just one of many coaches in the state of Michigan who are making that difference by implementing the be nice. Team program
. The program brings awareness to K-12 mental health and drives open discussions around the topic.
“The be nice. Team program is one that a school or community athletics program can adopt,” says Jessica Jones, communications director for be nice. and the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan
. “This program provides simple and effective mental health and suicide prevention education, provides a common language for coaching staff, players, and parents, increases team connectedness and psychological safety, and increases team communication and trust. By training coaches/players on the basics of mental health and the be nice. action plan, they are able to recognize changes in the mental health of themselves or their athletes/teammates.”
Coach Williams-Hoak and players.
Williams-Hoak was introduced to the be nice. Team program four years ago as part of the be.nice Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) online yearly rules test and certification
. Since then, all coaches were given more extensive education for certification into the be nice. program.
“This is a program that I quickly became passionate about for a variety of reasons,” explains Williams-Hoak. “I experienced some tough times growing up and I have seen many of my athletes experience mental health issues as well. I wanted to become involved in a bigger way than what was required of us as coaches. I continued to promote the program within the coaches associations in the state of Michigan, in my teams and my school and also within the LPGA. The be nice. program is an official partner of the LPGA.”
Focused on athletes, the be nice. Team program is one facet of be nice. programming for youth. The evidence-based, K-12 systematic approach to behavioral and mental health education and awareness can be implemented with all K-12 students. In Saline, be nice. programming is implemented district-wide, year after year because repetition creates familiarity, making the be nice. action plan common language.
“The goal is for students, school and support staff, and families to feel comfortable talking openly and honestly about mental health,” Jones says. “It’s proven that be nice. students are more apt to utilize resources if they are struggling or let a trusted adult know if they’re worried about a friend.”
Jessica Jones, be nice. communications director, and Isabelle Buck, student volunteer.
be nice. focuses on being proactive. Its four simple steps challenges students and others to seek appropriate professional help when they first notice changes in their mental health.
“We pride ourselves on being upstream. We know that if everyone has awareness and education with this simple action plan, we can help individuals before they experience a serious mental health condition,” Jones says. “By focusing on community engagement, establishing protective factors and positive coping skills, and increasing awareness of resources, we can get individuals help.”
Although be nice. takes a preventative approach, the action plan also works midstream and downstream when addressing mental health. When used at these points, the action plan helps direct individuals to the appropriate professional help in their school, business, or community.
Tech tool helps schools support students’ mental health
Dr. Allen Tien, mdlogix President and chief science officer.
While be nice. is working within schools, organizations, and sports teams, the State of Michigan Department of Education has made mdlogix bhworks software available to all 56 intermediate school districts
to help schools with obtaining consents, screening, assessing, and treating school-age youth (grades K-12). The goal is to reduce youth suicides and address mental health needs while streamlining confidential communication among staff, families, and providers.
bhworks has been leveraged to address mental and behavioral health issues in a range of settings from hospitals, primary care facilities, and local health departments to community organizations, workplaces, and schools. The software includes tools that track care management services so providers and staff can work together to manage care plans, track referrals, engage patients, and evaluate outcomes.
“We are looking to work with any and all community members and organizations who are connected to helping improve K-12 student mental health with prevention, early intervention, treatment, and crisis response,” says psychiatrist Allen Tien, MD, MHS, mdlogix
president and chief science officer. “We also look to work with public health scientists and government policy makers to generate new knowledge and apply that to policy development.”
mdlogix is looking to increase use of bhworks across the Michigan education system while also increasing the utility of bhworks for users.
“We envision increased use of bhworks as a platform for innovation, for example with incorporating K-12 student behavioral health into teen pregnancy prevention programs,” says Tien. “We always seek to identify and understand problems so that we can solve them to benefit our users and the students they are taking care of.”
be nice. materials for students.
Both be nice. and mdlogix have similar goals: To increase awareness around the prevalence and devastating reality of mental health concerns amongst our K-12 kids as well as to show that there are ways to combat against the harrowing statistics with software, programs, and team interventions.
“Mental health is a huge area of concern in our world today,” says Williams-Hoak. “Stresses in everyday life for all ages are greater than they have been in the past. This is very concerning for our young people who have less coping mechanisms and emotional resilience. This is why these programs are so important. We have to remain up stream in our fight against suicide and with education and awareness. We have to be persistent!”