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SAMHSA News - May/June 2008, Volume 16, Number 3

Celebrating Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

By Leslie Quander Wooldridge

Performers at SAMHSA’s third annual National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day included youth dancers, singers, and performance artists. Presenters included local high school students in dramatic and musical skits, two young actors, and a former NFL player.

The purpose of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is to emphasize the positive impact that effective school- and community-based mental health services have on children and youth.

As part of its “Still I Rise” celebration, SAMHSA recognized seven youth from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Manassas Park High School for their ability to express resilience through performing arts. These youth—who have experienced mental health challenges—sang, danced, and recited spoken-word performances to communicate messages of encouragement to youth in the audience. Also performing were the internationally known Dana Tai Soon Dance Company, and LeDerick Horne, a spoken word artist.

Awards and guest speeches were part of the talent showcase co-hosted by Keke Palmer of Akeelah and the Bee and Marc Indelicato of “Ugly Betty,” along with Megan McNair, a student majoring in broadcast journalism at Howard University, in Washington, DC.

Former NFL player Herschel Walker, diagnosed with disassociative identity disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder), was recognized for increasing understanding of mental health issues through his memoir, Breaking Free.

Howie Mandel, Awareness Day Ambassador and host of television's “Deal or No Deal,” spoke in a pre-recorded message on the importance of the celebration. A group of high school seniors in San Francisco, CA, performed via satellite as part of the city’s “system of care” partnership with Safe Schools/Healthy Students.

SAMHSA, along with Youth MOVE National and the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, launched Dare to Dream America, a new initiative encouraging youth to promote positive mental health among their peers. The Agency provides scholarships to create awareness campaigns in communities around the country.

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Helping Youth Thrive

The event also served as a backdrop to the release of a SAMHSA report showing that comprehensive, community-based programs can help high school youth with mental health needs to succeed at home, in school, and in the community.

The report, Helping Youth Thrive in the Community, reveals that youth with behavioral and emotional issues who received SAMHSA-funded systems of care services demonstrated improved school attendance and academic performance and exhibited fewer disciplinary problems.

Furthermore, youth suicide attempts were reduced by half within 6 months after entering systems of care (from 12 percent to 6 percent), with attempts further reduced by more than two-thirds (to approximately 4 percent) for high school youth who received program services for at least 18 months.

For more event information, visit SAMHSA’s Web site at

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