It Starts with You(th): Engaging Youth in Deeper Conversation Around Mental Health and Suicide

In an effort to highlight new and creative ways school-based health staff are engaging youth in conversations around health and well-being, we are starting a series called It Starts with You(th).

Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools has partnered with Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) to produce Ghosted, a “new educational theatre production [that brings] the mental health challenges that many young people deal with out into the open.”

In November 2019, staff at Franklin High School and their school-based health center (SBHC; operated by Kaiser Permanente) partnered to bring Ghosted to their students. Performances and post-performance discussions were hosted for each grade during “Mental Health Week” and students were able to opt into an additional mental health workshop led by SCT Teaching Artists later in the week.


Response from students was overwhelmingly positive, with many reflecting that the play’s portrayal of adolescent mental health was relatable and destigmatizing. Weeks after the performance, students continue to talk about it.

Franklin students respond to Ghosted:

“I think the way the actors portrayed anxiety and depression really stood out to me because I can relate.”

“What stood out to me is that everyone can have hidden issues.  Also everyone deserves to receive help.”

“People can get help from their friends, counselor, or people they trust.”

Franklin SBHC mental health provider, Lennae Varlinsky coordinated with the school’s administration, drama teacher, and ASB advisor to host the play series after first seeing it in school year 2018-19. Lennae shared that the play set an important framework in the school for ongoing conversations about mental health and suicide, noting that it was a key tool to “normalize [the experience of the characters in the play] as common experiences of humans especially at this age.”

Partnership with mental health providers on campus increased student awareness of services

At Franklin, school-wide mental health support is offered by district-employed counselors. The SBHC provides short-term, problem-focused therapy for students with additional needs. Therapeutic Health Services (THS) and Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS) offer more intensive mental health services on campus for students needing long-term support. Lennae coordinated with each of these partners to ensure their representation during Mental Health Week. Staff were able to highlight how they work together and the roles they each play in supporting student wellness.

As a result of this effort, staff report increased student recognition of school counselors, SBHC staff, and community mental health providers. Students now know staff by name and better understand how to connect themselves or their friends to mental health services.

“Exit tickets” connect students to care

As students left each performance, they completed an “exit ticket.” On the ticket students could choose to leave their reflections on the play, indicate interest in receiving on-campus mental health services, opt in to attending the deeper-dive workshop later in the week, and/or leave the ticket blank. Each student left their “exit ticket” at the door to keep their reflections and service requests anonymous to their peers.

Counseling and SBHC staff used these tickets to identify and connect with students for follow-up services. Additionally, inspired by suggestions from students’ exit tickets, staff were able to coordinate with student leaders to explore additional opportunities to continue conversations around mental health and suicide prevention.

Students identified peer support (as illustrated in the play) as a key ongoing effort to explore at Franklin. Lennae and her colleagues are in conversation with student leaders about what this could look like.

Franklin SBHC and school staff welcomed a new and creative opportunity for their students to engage in conversation around mental health. Feedback and ongoing response continue to be positive, showing an example of the many successful ways student health and well-being can be addressed in a school setting. To learn more about how you can bring Ghosted to your school, visit Kaiser Permanente’s community health web pages.


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