UMatter group gets grant to continue challenging stigma, helping teens in need.
UMatter, a teen-led organization devoted to helping local teens who are struggling with depression and other mental health issues, recently received a $10,000 grant from the Michigan Association for Suicide Prevention.
Guided by Friendship Circle Teen Director Rabbi Yarden Blumstein, UMatter uses a peer-to-peer model
wherein teens help their fellow students to overcome stigmas and other obstacles related to mental health, so they can get the help they need.
Under the auspices of Friendship Circle of Michigan, Friendship House and the Andrew Kukes Foundation of Social Anxiety, UMatter is comprised of student representatives from high schools throughout Metro Detroit. The goal is to bring teens from a place of extreme isolation and depression to a place of hope and inclusion.
At a recent UMatter leadership board meeting attended by students from several local high schools, the teens spoke about some of the issues they face. These
included issues related to the widespread use of social media, communication obstacles with parents and other adults, the stigma surrounding mental health challenges, and the number of teens in their circles who are suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.
While most of the teens in the group said they felt comfortable talking to their parents about difficult subjects, many would like their parents to be more open about their own problems and challenges.
Hannah Passer of Bloomfield Hills High School said that because many mental health issues are hereditary, kids should be informed about their parents’ struggles.
“Parents should learn to talk to us about mental health and other important topics,” said Nicole Kahan, a
Frankel Jewish Academy student who serves as president of this year’s teen advisory board.
The teens also coordinate UMatter Weeks at various high schools, funded by a grant from the Jewish Fund Teen Board. These week-long events consist of teacher TEDTalks, hall decorations, an essay contest and trainings for SafeTALK, a suicide prevention program that teaches participants to notice cues
and seek help for someone who may be thinking of suicide.
“If we’re aware of signs, we need to convey that information,” said George Victor, who attends Frankel Jewish Academy.
The teens aim to spread the message that every person matters unconditionally and that every person
can make a difference to someone else.
“Every word you say to somebody counts,” said Jessica Menuck, a senior at Frankel Jewish Academy. “We can’t always do an event or get the whole community together, but we can always say ‘hi’ or ask people how they’re doing.”
West Bloomfield High School, where a spate of suicides took place a few years ago, now has a regular morning program where school clubs take turns greeting students as they enter the building.
“Even one person can make a world of difference,” said Adam Ben Moche of West Bloomfield High School. “You don’t realize how much impact you can have.”
Emma Jacobson of Frankel Jewish Academy said she is more aware of kids that may feel like
outcasts. “We serve an important role because people know they can open up to us without judgment,” she said.
In addition to the $10,000 grant, the Michigan Association for Suicide Prevention donated $2,500 for T-shirts to be given out to high schoolers at various UMatter events. The shirts will be imprinted with the number of the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255.
“This generous grant will help us expand our horizon of impact on people we can touch and help,” Blumstein said.
A UMatter parent-teen discussion called “One Thing I Wish You Knew” will take place from 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, at Friendship Circle, 6892 W. Maple Road in West Bloomfield. For information, call (248) 788-7888 or visit friendshipcircle.org/umatter.