May is National Mental Health Awareness Month – WEEK TWO

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. This month, LookUp, along with many other organizations and individuals, is raising awareness by fighting stigma, providing support, education, and advocacy for mental health.  Each week, we’ll share mental health insights from various community sectors.

This week, Christy Gauss, MSW, Facilitator for the Indiana School Mental Health Initiative, and Jeff Wittman,  School Social Work & Foster Youth Specialist at the Indiana Department of Education, share the importance of mental health in education.   The Reverend Dr. Dennis Goff, Director of Ministry Programs for The Lutheran Foundation, shares why mental health should be discussed in the faith community.

Christy Gauss
Christy Gauss, MSW, Facilitator for the Indiana School Mental Health Initiative

Several epidemiological studies of children’s mental health needs and services have led to the conclusion that school is the de facto mental health system for children.  From a purely educational standpoint as highlighted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “A study estimating the relative influence of 30 different categories of education, psychological, and social variables on learning revealed that social and emotional variables exerted the most powerful influence on academic performance.” Educational neuroscience is further making it clear that adversity, trauma, and stress have significant effects on a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.  Simply stated, stressed brains do not learn the same as brains that feel safe, can emotionally regulate, and feel connections.  However, because these stressors either go unrecognized or there is a lack of knowledge about their effects on learning and behavior, traumatized and stressed children are often identified or mislabeled as having behavior, discipline, and/or learning issues.  When we understand that the root cause of so many of our students outcomes have to do with the brain’s stress-response, not with ability or choices made by our students, we are called to respond differently as teachers, staff, parents, and community partners.

Social and emotional learning and creating positive school climates where our students feels safe and feel they have purpose and connection are therefore essential components to achieving the academic outcomes and indeed the life outcomes we want to see.  Schools are the best place to move towards prevention and increase access to mental health services at the earliest ages and now we know that addressing student social, emotional, and mental health is essential to their academic achievement as well. It is also important to note that in order to promote the social and emotional health of our students we must first address the well-being of our teachers and provide them with the support and resources they need, including increased support from students services personnel and community partners. Resilient school staff and students lead to resilient and thriving families, and communities.

For more information on this topic visit the Schools page on LookUp at

– Christy Gauss, MSW, Facilitator for the Indiana School Mental Health Initiative

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) is committed to providing and supporting quality educational opportunities for all Indiana youth. Jeff Wittman,  School Social Work & Foster Youth Specialist at the Indiana Department of Education, shares more below.

Jeff Wittman, Indiana Department of Education
Jeff Wittman, Indiana Department of Education

In response to the 2015 federal legislation known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Indiana created a plan embracing the educational needs of the “whole child.”  This takes into account a system of instruction and support that addresses the academic, social, and emotional development of each student.  The Indiana ESSA plan was approved by the United States Department of Education on January 22, 2018.  The plan is available for reference on the IDOE website at the following link:

The 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), Child Trends Report, indicated that 1 in 6 (15%) of Indiana students have three or more “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” otherwise known as ACES.  Dr. Bruce Perry, a noted child trauma and behavioral science researcher and author, recently presented at Butler University’s Educational Neuroscience Symposium in April.  Dr. Perry emphasized that an ACE score of three or more makes students 32 times more likely to experience academic and behavioral problems at school.

IDOE is engaged with both national and Indiana educational leaders to identify, create, and link to resources and/or promising practices in the area of social and emotional learning.  IDOE collaborates with several partners (CASEL, Great Lakes Comprehensive Center at American Institute for Research, the University of Maryland Center for School Mental Health, Butler University, the Indiana School Mental Health Initiative, and various others) to develop models of positive and responsive change that embrace the success of the “whole student” in Indiana.   For more information please contact Jeff Wittman at the Indiana Department of Education at 317-234-5704 or at

– Jeff Wittman,  School Social Work & Foster Youth Specialist at the Indiana Department of Education

The Reverend Dr. Dennis Goff shares why mental health should be discussed in the faith community and why there is hope, no matter what!

The Reverend Dr. Dennis Goff
The Reverend Dr. Dennis Goff, Director of Ministry Programs at The Lutheran Foundation

Recently I was listening to my favorite Christian radio station and heard the song, No Matter What by Ryan Stevenson.  I’ve heard the song before, but this time I heard it with fresh ears, especially the words, “But I want you to know, there’s still a hope for you now.”  Maybe that’s the message for Mental Health Awareness Month, there’s hope for us now. . . no matter what.

And what a better place to share that message than the church, especially for people living with mental health challenges.  The Christian message is all about hope!  But, what can the church say about mental health issues, you might ask?  Well in the church we can acknowledge that 20-25% (or more) of our people are living with a mental health challenge but often don’t speak openly about it.  The church can reduce the stigma around mental illness by talking about it, praying about it and dispelling the myth that mental illness is the result of a lack of faith.  The month of May is a great time to remind people living with mental illness that there is hope . . . no matter what!

Not long ago a friend introduced me to John Swinton, department chair of divinity and religious studies at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.  In an article he recently wrote entitled, “Doing Small Things with Extraordinary Love,” he writes:

“The church is not called to do extraordinary things; it is called to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.  In response to the complexities of the experience of mental health problems, the church’s vocation is not to become a community of psychiatrists.  Rather, it is called to become a community of disciples who strive to embody and reveal God’s extraordinary love.  What kind of impact could it have if, instead of fretting about how we can help to control or cure a person’s experiences (important as that may be in certain situations), we invited people with mental health problems to speak to us about what it actually feels like to go through such experiences.  I suspect that is the approach that Jesus would take – love first, then listen and always try to understand.”  

Clearly the message of the church is for people to know that there is hope and love for us all . . . no matter what.

When challenged with responding to such issues in the church, it’s not uncommon to wonder, where do I start?  What do I do?  What resources are available to help address this topic? I have two suggestions.  First, be sure to look at Mental Health Ministries which offers a wealth of resources for the local church.  Especially you will want to see this month’s MHM e-Spotlight Spring 2018.  Here you will find articles and suggestions to give attention to mental health issues in your congregation not only this month, but year around.  Also, Pathways to Promise is another excellent source for mental health awareness resources that can be used in your church.

Why would the local church pay attention to National Mental Health Awareness Month?  Because, what better place than the local church to offer to all people, especially people living with mental health challenges, there is love and hope for us all . . . no matter what.

-The Reverend Dr. Dennis Goff, Director of Ministry Programs for The Lutheran Foundation

During this month, we urge everyone to learn more about mental illness and addiction and simply reach out to a friend, neighbor, or family member who may need some support and help.

In May, and every month, let us ring out hope as we continue to fight for victory over mental illness and addiction.  Be sure to check back for each week’s new blog for National Mental Health Awareness month, visit our blog page on

Help us Start the Conversation and Silence the Stigma.


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