be nice. is a initiative from the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, currently focused in the Grand Rapids area but expanding to other parts of the state. be nice. works in classrooms, workplaces, and faith communities to educate about mental health and warning signs of suicide. In elementary school, be nice. trains “liaisons” — school leaders, teachers, and parents — in classroom mental health. In middle and high school, be nice. empowers student leaders to use their framework to create a positive mental health climate at their school, and to recognize signs of mental health struggles in their classmates.
A Grand Valley State University behavioral and interview-based study concluded that there was a significant positive difference in the likelihood of certain behaviors — including willingness to seek out protective mental health resources and willingness to speak with a trusted adult about their mental health — in schools that had “effectively implement[ed]” be nice.‘s framework.
We Fight leadership team member Stephanie Rorich Slawnik recently spoke with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s Executive Director, Christy Buck, to learn more about be nice.
How would you describe your organization to a stranger?
[The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan is] a mental health and suicide prevention education and awareness organization educating individuals of all ages to recognize, understand, accept, and take action when it comes to mental health. We do this through two major awareness events and our flagship program, be nice. This program is a call to action empowering individuals with the knowledge and confidence to take action using the program’s four simple steps – to notice, invite, challenge, and empower.
What are some misconceptions about your organization?
Our be nice. program was first launched in schools, so oftentimes, community members believe we are an anti-bullying program for children, when in fact, we are a mental health program that increases mental health awareness, educates, and changes the culture in a school, workplace, or faith organization.
What are you most proud of about your organization?
I’m most proud of our sustainability as an organization and within our programs. The MHF has been committed to understanding and accepting mental illness since 1990, and continues to bring awareness through two annual events that have been recurring for nearly 30 years called Stomp Out Stigma and Shining Through Art Show and Auction.
Since 2005, we have been making a difference in the classroom and have been able to successfully grow and expand the programs throughout the state and beyond. The first education program my team and I created was called “Live Laugh Love” and has since been rebranded as “be nice. Extension.” This is a 4-course interactive program about mental illness, stigma surrounding mental health, and suicide prevention.
In 2010, we created the be nice. program. This program also took an educational approach in a way that makes a difference in the overall culture of an organization and among its individuals. It educates students, staff, employees, and community members in the basics surrounding mental health and illness, provides a common language for discussing these topics, and provides resources to take action.
Back in 2010, there was a board member who questioned the “shelf life” of the be nice. program. Twelve years later, he would happily admit that his confidence in the sustainability of the program has exceeded his original expectations!
What are some resources you offer that are underutilized?
We are always accepting new schools, businesses, and faith organizations. As our organization continues to grow, our program reach continues to expand. As we continue to expand throughout the state, we would love the opportunity to work with northern Michigan.
What would you love to overhear someone say about your organization?
“That’s the program that saved my life.” “That’s the program that helped me save a life.” “That’s the program that helped me when I was depressed.”
- Learn about be nice.‘s in-school programming
- be nice.‘s Understanding Mental Health resources
- Donate to support be nice.
- Contact be nice. for more information, including information in implementing be nice.‘s framework in your school
- Follow be nice. on Facebook
Please join in celebrating and building awareness for be nice. There are lots of ways — big and small — We Fight members can help, including the following:
- Sharing the Spotlight on social media
- Forwarding this newsletter to a friend
- Writing a review on Facebook or Google
- Making a donation
- Telling a friend or neighbor about them, especially in the Grand Rapids area
- Writing a supportive letter to the editor based on be nice.’s principles
- Contacting be nice. and asking what they need