Be nice. Program Empowers Communities to Act on Mental Health  

Amy Barczy

| 4 min read

Amy Barczy is a former brand journalist who authored content...

A high school student poses in front of a step and repeat at the be nice. student symposium for mental health
If someone you know was facing a mental health crisis, would you know what to say? If you saw someone being bullied, would you know what to do? The be nice. program, run by the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, seeks to empower communities with the knowledge to act in those types of situations. There are more than 128 schools in 18 counties in Western, Eastern and Northern Michigan who use the program today, in addition to workplaces and congregations. The be nice. program is an upstream mental health and suicide prevention program with an action plan. When used effectively, the be nice. program encourages individuals to challenge themselves and others to seek appropriate professional help when they notice changes in their mental health. Recently, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan supported symposiums hosted by be nice. for students. “The resources and information provided by the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s be nice. program are powerful tools that challenge the stigma surrounding mental health and reinforces acceptance of getting professional help as needed,” said Ken Hayward, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan vice president and special assistant to the president for Community Relations. “Blue Cross is proud to support the Student Symposiums, which serve as a platform for students to learn, engage and equip themselves with the knowledge necessary to create a positive culture of mental and emotional well-being.” The “nice” in the program name is an acronym that stands for the following:
  • Notice what is right and different.
  • Invite yourself to reach out.
  • Challenge stigma.
  • Empower yourself and others with education and resources.
By using these steps, students and adults can act when they see someone who needs help. This is especially important for suicide prevention, as 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition, and eight out of 10 people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions. The program teaches the signs of someone in a mental health crisis and educates about the types of prompts to use to start a conversation with that person. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of the be nice. program, as everyone has grappled with a loss of control, connection and socialization. Program directors say that be nice. provides a common language for people to be able to be aware of changes in themselves or others, and to know how to interject when needed. “The empower step is so important right now because we’re giving individuals the tools to recognize changes that could be a mental health concern, but even more importantly, we’re empowering them to recognize their own resilience. Who and what in their lives helps make them resilient when faced with a tough or triggering situation?” said Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. “Providing this knowledge and confidence to take action is what keeps our program upstream. When used effectively, an individual is seeking help or finding a solution at the onset of a mental health concern or crisis.” The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan works to promote mental health awareness and prevent suicide through education. The foundation was started in 1990 and since then has expanded and grown its offerings and capabilities. When the be nice. program was created in 2011, its purpose was to bring awareness and education to students in classrooms about how bullying can impact someone’s mental and emotional health. The program’s importance and relevance prompted an expansion into a workplace education program in 2015 and to faith congregations in 2018. Researchers at Grand Valley State University evaluated the effectiveness of the be nice. program in schools and found it increases behaviors that prevent suicide, increases mental health awareness and resources available among staff, students and parents, as well as decreases the number of behavioral referrals and incidents of bullying. The program also helps move school districts towards a more positive school climate, according to the research. Learn more about mental health and options you have as a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan or Blue Care Network member to seek help at More from MIBluesPerspectives:
Photo credit: Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan 
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association