Mental Health 101
Tom ThelenCEO, Mental Health 101
Tom Thelen is the founder of Reset Schools, a nonprofit that partners with K-12 schools to teach mental health skills and resiliency. Since 2012, Tom has spoken at over 800 schools and has been interviewed on NBC, CBS, and FOX.
In the United States, 90% of K-12 students are never taught basic mental health skills such as how to cope with anxiety or what to do if they feel depressed. We met with author Tom Thelen, one of America’s top mental health speakers, to discuss how COVID-19 is impacting teens.
“If we want students to become more resilient, then schools need to start teaching positive coping skills for stress and anxiety. With COVID-19, these skills are needed now more than ever,” said Tom Thelen, founder of Mental Health 101, an award-winning mental health curriculum for schools.
Thelen notes how the current system for addressing student mental health is broken, or, in some cases, nonexistent.
“Our current system is broken,” adds Thelen, referring to how mental health offerings in most schools are only available as an intervention for students with behavioral problems or mental health challenges.
“Schools send about 10% of their students to meet with a school psychologist or a school counselor, which is a very good thing. But what about the other 90%? What about teaching the positive side of mental health? Schools need to focus on more than just preventing mental illness. They also need to teach mental wellness,” he continues.
Studies from the National Institutes of Health show that teens with lower levels of stress and anxiety score higher on tests and have fewer behavioral issues.
COVID-19 and Mental Health
Thelen notes the research connecting COVID-19 and social isolation with the rise in teen anxiety and depression.
“With COVID-19, we’re seeing a rising mental health crisis, particularly in teens. Many of them are falling behind socially, emotionally, and academically. At Mental Health 101, our core mission is teaching positive coping skills to address that very issue,” said Thelen.
On March 10, 2020, (pre-pandemic) Tom Thelen was speaking at a youth conference in New York. Six middle schools gathered at a community college to hear Thelen’s motivational life story about bullying prevention and mental health. The students sat side-by-side, packed into a large gymnasium. Social distancing was impossible. A few teachers wore masks and talked about COVID-19, but mostly, it was business as usual.
The very next day, all New York schools were closed
“On March 11th I flew back home to Michigan, and the airport was a ghost town,” notes Thelen.
“All I could think about was how many teens would be losing their main support system - their school. Granted, a lot of teens have a steady home life, but many of them do not. For those teens, in-person learning and social interaction provides routine and stability, especially for the ones who do not come home to a caring support system. School is their anchor,” Thelen said.
Inspiring Students and Parents
Since 2012, Thelen has presented at over 800 schools and conferences and has appeared on news programs on NBC, CBS, and PBS. His passion for communication has earned him a reputation as one of America’s top motivational speakers. He and his wife, Casie, have four children, ages 10 to 14. Thelen is an authentic and engaging storyteller, even vulnerable at times.
“The reason I care so much is because I’ve been there,” said Thelen. “As a teen I dealt with depression and anxiety, and in my weakest moment I had one teacher reach out to me. She really listened to what I was going through. Her name was Mrs. Burdick, and she became my trusted adult, the person I could talk to without feeling judged.”
After high school, Thelen earned a Bachelor of Science degree and went on to work with youth at a local nonprofit. He found it rewarding to speak to teens, and soon he was invited to tell his story at local schools and youth camps.
Thelen’s big break came in 2012 when his first book was published, “Teen Leadership Revolution.” Soon after, he became a full-time author and speaker.
In 2018 Thelen developed an evidence-based bullying prevention program called No Bullying Schools, complete with a video curriculum and a smartphone app for reporting bullying. No Bullying Schools is now used as a curriculum by hundreds of schools across the country, and many of them book Thelen for school assembly speeches.
“Then the pandemic hit,” reflects Thelen. “My only in-person speech since March 10 was at Starbucks Corporate Headquarters in Seattle. They booked my talk on mental health and resiliency. Since the pandemic was already in full swing, we filmed in front of a very small audience, socially distanced of course, and then they sent the video to all their stores. Since then, it’s been 100% virtual assemblies and conferences.”
In June 2020, Thelen and his team formed a 501c3 nonprofit called “Reset Schools.” The group partners with schools to teach mental health activities that help students “reset” when they are feeling down. In early 2021, Reset Schools was awarded a $120,000 grant from Google via the Google Ads platform. With the grant, the nonprofit can promote their mental health curriculum for schools via the Google Ad Grant.
Thelen is a certified instructor in a program called “Mental Health First Aid,” from The National Council for Behavioral Health. Mental Health First Aid is an eight-hour course that shows adults how to help teens in a mental health crisis and how to connect them with a counselor
“I love Mental Health First Aid, but many schools cannot afford an eight-hour training. Schools were asking me if we had any shorter versions of the program, and we did not. They also wanted mental health trainings that were geared for the teens, not just the adults, and that’s when the idea for Mental Health 101 was born,” he said.
Teens Need “Mental Health 101”
Thelen’s initial idea was to write a book for teens. In the summer of 2020, he recruited three PhDs to be his co-authors: Dr. Kirleen Neely, Dr. Kimberley Orsten Hooge, and Dr. Elliott Kagan. Together they wrote “Mental Health 101 for Teens.” The book was released on December 11, 2020, and it quickly became an Amazon # 1 new release in the education category.
“A school in Oakland, California, pre-ordered 500 copies of the book, and after that, we were off to the races,” says Thelen. “We developed a full curriculum for schools with a teacher’s guide and a 10-session virtual conference, also called Mental Health 101. Our diverse group of presenters does training sessions for students, parents, and educators. Each school district gets a custom solution, based on their needs. Since our team shares the same values, we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the program into schools.”
Mental Health 101 was recently honored by Industry Era Review Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Education Solution Providers of 2021” for the company’s innovative mental health curriculum. Readers can download Thelen’s free guide for educators and parents, “7 Tools for Reducing Anxiety”at MentalHealth101.org.
About Tom Thelen