Nationwide Children’s campaign to lift veil on children’s mental illness

Nationwide Children’s Hospital is launching an "On Our Sleeves" campaign on Wednesday in an effort to erase negative stereotypes associated with children’s mental illness, provide resources for families and raise money for research into diagnoses and treatment.

The campaign, based on a notion that "kids don’t wear their thoughts on their sleeves," kicks off with a new website and an 8:30 a.m. event at Nationwide Children’s Downtown campus, followed by other events at the Ohio Statehouse at 11 a.m. and Easton Towne Center at 4 p.m.

The campaign uses such symbols as a broken pencil, a wilted flower and a storm cloud — but also a rainbow, a smiley face and sunshine. The goal is to foster awareness and direct people to places where they can find, or give, help.

"There really is not a forum to be talking about children’s mental health in a way that people can positively engage," said Donna Teach, chief marketing and communications officer at Nationwide Children’s. "This was an issue that needed a voice."

Also of concern is that people who want to get behind children’s mental-health issues are not sure how, Teach said. People are comfortable reaching out to networks that support children with cancer or diabetes, for example, but they simply aren’t sure how to have an impact around mental health.

Melissa Wervey Arnold, chief executive officer of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said such campaigns are needed to help make children’s mental health a priority as families flood emergency rooms amid a shortage of resources.

In an effort to bridge the gap, Arnold said, the academy is training pediatricians and family physicians to treat some issues, such as depression and anxiety, while turning to behavioral-health referrals for the most serious cases.

"One in five children in their community has a mental health diagnosis, which is staggering to most people," she said. "What we also know is that, at any given time, 25 percent of adolescents will screen positive for depression. Those are some pretty scary statistics."

Teach is expecting Wednesday’s three events to create a "collective community thunderclap" in support of child mental-health issues.

Campaign materials include lapel pins, temporary tattoos, stickers, T-shirts, note cards with messages such as "i’m here for you" and "you’re awesome." Handouts also offer tips on starting conversations with young people and ways to advocate for mental health.

The effort comes as Nationwide Children’s constructs a nine-story pediatric mental-health facility for treatment, research, education and training.

The Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion, expected to open in 2020, will be the nation’s largest center for children’s behavioral-health treatment and research on a pediatric medical campus. It will provide a psychiatric crisis center and observation unit, a crisis-stabilization unit, inpatient care and outpatient programming.

David Royer, chief executive officer at the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, said On Our Sleeves is a continuation of a remarkable commitment made by Nationwide Children’s to a child’s whole wellness.

"This campaign really gets to some very important core things about ‘how do we better educate ourselves about the issue of mental health and the challenges that young people face so it’s not stigmatizing to them and their families?’" he said. "It’s really about trying to educate and lift the veil."

Teach said about half of mental illnesses begin before age 14, but there is no national voice for the issue akin to, say, the American Heart Association’s "Go Red" focus on women’s heart disease or the Susan G. Komen movement to fight breast cancer. Columbus, she said, has an opportunity to offer that voice, not just locally, but by spreading a message about children’s mental-health needs beyond the region.

"Columbus is in a really unique position to be a national leader on this issue," Teach said. "We have such a great infrastructure in place, and what we’re creating as a community is pretty unprecedented."

To learn more about the On Our Sleeves campaign and events, visit https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/giving/on-our-sleeves.

jviviano@dispatch.com

@JoAnneViviano