Business symposium kicks off series of spring be nice. mental health events

Since 2011, The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan (MHFWM) has promoted mental health awareness and suicide prevention with its be nice. four-step mental health action-plan: notice, invite, challenge, and empower. What started as an anti-bullying program for schools has grown into a book and a mental health curriculum implemented in educational institutions as well as businesses, athletic teams, faith organizations, and communities across Michigan and as far away as Alaska.  

Grand Valley State University three-year, evidence-based study concluded that the be nice. program increases mental health awareness by 60%, develops a positive culture with an emphasis on compassion understanding and awareness, and increases behaviors that prevent suicide.  

“be nice. really gained a lot of movement in school arenas because a lot of school districts needed to implement bully-prevention plans,” says Christy Buck, executive director of MHFWM. “After that, presentations of the action plan were being shown to companies, from small to supersize, gaining more movement, so we decided to create a business program.”

Buck shares that 56,860 people have taken the pledge and learned the action plan to support mental health and suicide prevention in their communities. This spring, four be nice. events in April and May will equip individuals with the knowledge to recognize, understand, accept, and take action around mental health and eradicating stigma. 

Business training at University of Michigan Health-West.
Wellness in the workplace 

On  April 24, about 50 businesses will take part in a half-day symposium to enhance be nice. programming in their workplace. This year’s theme is “Empowering employees to be nice. to themselves: self-care in the workplace.” The event welcomes businesses interested in learning about the action plan and incorporating it into their workplace.

“The business symposium is going to enhance our be nice. program for businesses,” says Buck. “This event will remind companies about previous material and provide them with new material and new tools they can use to spread to employees how the action plan can be used.
Christy Buck.
They are also going to be reminded of the connections they have at the Foundation and meet other people and other businesses that are also practicing be nice. in their companies to show that there is support and that they are not alone.”

The event will show a new film with four vignettes about diverse young adults ranging from ages 18-25. Each uses their story to teach the four steps of the action plan. 

Companies that utilize be nice. programming and want to attend the event can RSVP. Interested companies that don’t utilize be nice. programming and want to learn more and/or attend the event, can buy a ticket here. 

Lean On Me

At 9 a.m. April 27, MHFWM kicks off the Love and Lean Walk/Run in Zeeland. The Walk commemorates Zach Kroll, a sophomore at Zeeland East High School who died by suicide in 2015 at the age of 15. Participants can create memorial signs to honor loved ones for placement along the walk. The walk helps “reduce the shame and secrecy surrounding mental illness so less people struggle silently and more people seek help.” Last year, the walk raised $25,000 for be nice. programming. 

“The Kroll family became very passionate about continuing mental health education and suicide prevention in their school,” says Buck. “Lori, Zach’s mother, is a believer of passing out love and making sure that people lean on their loved ones, hence the name.” 

People with disabilities reported having more mentally unhealthy days.
Disability and Mental Health 

MHFWM will also host a Disability and Mental Health Symposium 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. May 8 at its offices. This event will focus on the impact of disabilities on mental health and vice versa. A panel discussion will feature personal stories and insights from people with disabilities who will share first-hand how disabilities impact mental well-being.

Native Michigander Jocelyn Dettloff, a wheelchair tennis player, motivational speaker, and author will speak to advocate for others with spinal cord injuries.  

“Mental illnesses can be the most disabling illness,” says Buck. “Now look at people with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities — that’s a double whammy if they are also struggling with depression. Now they’re at a higher risk for a mental illness and suicide. We intend to use this event to eradicate stigma and educate people on the be nice. action plan and how certain terms can affect people with a disability and mental illness.”

Community members of all ages walk to stomp out stigma.
Stomp Out Stigma

The be nice. 22nd annual 5k Stomp Out Stigma Walk for Mental Health takes place May 18, starting off at Grand Valley State University’s Seward parking lot in Grand Rapids. Proceeds from the walk go towards being nice. programs to spread further awareness throughout the community.

“Eradicating stigma is on everybody’s plate when you work in the field of mental health because stigma is the number one barrier to people seeking help and treatment,” says Buck. “It’s like any other illness, if it goes untreated it will worsen. If you had a broken leg you would go and get it treated, mental health should be treated the same.”

Along the walk route,  people can pay homage to loved ones lost to mental illness by placing placards, signs, and photos on “memorial hill.” Last year 1,000 people participated in the walk. 

“This year, we would like to increase the number of lives we positively impact through be nice.,” Buck says. “We want to increase the number of people who understand the action plan and show them how simple it is to be nice.”

If you, or someone you know is suffering from mental health and is in need of immediate help from a crisis call 988, or text “nice” to 741741. 

Monique Bedford is an aspiring journalist, currently freelancing for Issue Media Group publications. She graduated from Oakland University in fall of 2022 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish. Monique has experience in solutions journalism, media design, and hosting a radio show. When she's not writing, you can always find her studying different cultures and languages, reading her favorite newspaper, The New York Times, and spending quality time with her friends and family.

Photo of people with disabilities by Tommy Allen.
Other photos courtesy Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationLifeWaysMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
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