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Tia Burroughs Clayton, MSS
Learning and Community Impact Consultant

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Derrick M. Gordon, PhD
Learning and Community Impact Consultant

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Attitudes In Reverse

Attitudes In Reverse

Attitudes In Reverse Logo

Program Website
New Jersey
Winner Status:
Program Type:
Target Population:
Children and Adolescents

Program Description

Coming Up for AIR™ teaches middle and high school and college students about mental health disorders, including warning signs and effects of not being treated properly or at all; stories of families affected by mental health disorders and/or suicide; and warning signs of suicide. This presentation is often accompanied by the In Their Shoes™ exhibit. The 269 pairs of shoes represent New Jersey youth, ages 10 to 24, who ended their lives between 2013 and 2015. Each pair of shoes includes a printed thought (e.g., “Nobody loves me”) that individuals who are struggling may experience. This exhibit helps increase empathy towards those who are struggling and shows those who are struggling that they are not alone. AIR developed Packing a Good Mental Health Toolkit for Youth for students in upper elementary and middle schools, as some school officials expressed concern about discussing suicide with younger students. This consists of a friendly conversation about stress and coping strategies. The use of therapy dogs in all presentations and the sharing of personal stories are innovative components. All presenters and therapy dog handlers receive training in Youth Mental Health First Aid so they can help youth who experience difficult emotions during the presentations.


Coming Up for AIR engages students with slides listing famous people who have/had mental health disorders, reinforcing that mental health disorders can happen to anyone and that individuals with mental health disorders can lead successful lives. The presenters emphasize the importance of early treatment to potentially prevent the risk of suicide. Their personal stories establish strong connections with students. In Their Shoes is a powerful exhibit that builds understanding and empathy; encourages students to be kind toward others; and helps youth who are struggling to realize they are not alone and encourages them to seek help. Packing a Mental Health Toolkit was developed to alleviate school officials’ discomfort with discussing suicide with younger students. What truly sets AIR apart is the use of therapy dogs in all programs. AIR also brings dogs into schools and mental health hospitals. AIR Dog teams go to schools where students lost peers to suicide.


The Bakers demonstrated leadership since soon after losing their son Kenny to suicide by exhibiting at events to educate the community about mental health and suicide prevention. They also persevered in educating the principal of the high school that their children attended, as the staff and faculty clearly lacked understanding based on their reactions Kenny’s death. These initiatives led to many of the staff and faculty understanding mental health disorders and suicide, and inviting AIR to educate the students in subsequent years. The Bakers continually pursue opportunities to educate not only students, but also adults, as parents and others who work with youth must understand mental health disorders in order to recognize when youth are struggling and to intervene effectively. The Bakers offer the Coming Up for AIR program and Youth Mental Health First Aid training – and persevere in marketing these and other programs – to meet these needs.


Since beginning its Coming Up for AIR presentations in January 2011, AIR has been receiving requests every year from an increasing number of schools, which have added budget lines for this program and, in many cases, the In Their Shoes exhibit, as well. AIR also continues to receive requests from presentations from other schools, which demonstrates the likelihood that these schools will also continue to bring AIR in to educate their students, faculty and staff. In addition, AIR has received numerous awards, many of which were monetary, over the years; continually pursues funding opportunities through government and private grants; and has a deeply committed Board of Trustees who regularly engage in fundraising activities, including supporting AIR’s annual events: a 5K Walk/Run and Family Day in May and a food-tasting gala in October.


AIR is also supported by several actors and crew members of the popular television show Supernatural, which has greatly increased AIR’s visibility nationwide, including the establishment of chapters in California, Arizona and Minnesota. AIR has exhibited at several Supernatural conventions, which led to fans of the show volunteering to run these other chapters. The chapter directors have created In Their Shoes exhibits that represent the number of youth lost to suicide in their states, as well as the cultures in their regions, and have been trained to present this exhibit and Coming Up for AIR. The visibility and support gained from Supernatural also led to AIR receiving invitations to present at schools in several other states, including Texas, where AIR plans to return in 2018 to help youth who are experiencing a long-term mental health impact of Hurricane Harvey that hit in late 2017.


Since 2011, Coming Up for AIR has been presented to more than 60,000 students. Between 2 and 6 percent of students at every presentation open up about their struggles within a few days of the presentation and, as a result, those who were determined to be in need of counseling were connected with local mental healthcare providers. Students complete surveys before and after every Coming Up for AIR presentation. An average of 95% of students indicate that the presentation significantly increased their understanding of mental health disorders, ability to recognize when their peers are struggling and likelihood that they would be able to help peers speak with trusted adults to get help. Testimonials (an uploaded document) provide further evidence of the effectiveness of Coming Up for AIR and In Their Shoes. Since the Toolkit presentation was introduced within the past couple of months, statistics are not yet available.