BREAKING THE SILENCE: Spotting and Dealing with Mental Illness

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Joan Lunden

Aging Well /

Mental health

Today marked an important day for the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School, as they returned to school for the first time since the horrific shooting last month.  Coincidentally, this afternoon we got a call at our office that one of our local schools was in a lock-down mode due to a man entering the school who was carrying a weapon.  Thankfully he left when he was asked and is thought to be a local security guard who needed to pick something up at the school, but since he had a gun the school has been immediately occupied by local police and press are already outside. Tomorrow all the schools will have police presence to ensure everyone's safety.

This made us think about what more can be done in our society to prevent future tragedies.  Besides gun control, which is such a controversial issue, what else can we be doing in our society that could help prevent anything like this from happening again?  One important step to take is helping teachers, parents, and even students become better equipped to spot the signs of mental illness and recognize any potential problems in their classrooms.  Elise Silvestri who works in my office told me about a curriculum available to schools that educates teachers how to spot these signs and how to deal with them.  I asked her to share it with us.

From Elise:

On the heels of the travesty at Sandy Hook Elementary, we have all been thinking - “What can we do to stop this from ever happening again?”  Are armed guards the answer or buzzers at every school?  What can we do to help solve this horrific problem?  Then I thought of Lorraine Kaplan, a woman I met about 10 years ago through my mom. It’s a personal story of one woman’s crusade to help her son.

Lorraine is a smart and warm woman who was a teacher.  She is married to Eli, an engineer, and they had 2 beautiful children.  When their oldest son, Joel, was 17, he got accepted to several Ivy League schools.  Everything seemed great but what they didn’t know is that he was starting to develop signs of a mental illness.  When they took him to the doctor, they were told, “don’t tell anyone about this because the stigma of mental illness will ruin your lives.”  So, for the next ten years, they suffered in silence.  And then they found NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  NAMI is an organization that is “dedicated to making a better life for all people struggling with mental illness.  They offer support, and education for all those affected by mental illness.”

Lorraine was finally able to talk to others who were going through the same thing she and her family were.  This helped them tremendously and led her, along with 2 other moms who had children with mental illness to create “Breaking the Silence: Teaching the Next Generation about Mental Illness.”  The program is a curriculum that is now taught in schools. The goal is to change the way our world looks at mental illness and perhaps be part of the solution to make sure Newtown never happens again.

“Breaking the Silence” consists of lesson plans that teach the warning signs of mental illness and explain that mental illnesses are physical.  It’s no one’s fault and there is help available.  There are curriculums for all age groups- grades 4-6, middle and high school.  The program also teaches teachers since many educators are not trained to recognize the warning signs.  Teachers are faced everyday with children in their classes who have no friends, seem “off” and often get bullied by the other kids.

To learn more about how you can bring the curriculum of “Breaking the Silence” to your school, or perhaps have Lorraine speak at your school, go to

Perhaps mental illness education should be a part of our school’s curriculum.  I don’t know if it will stop school shootings but I hope it can a part of the solution.

About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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