“Advocacy is key,’’ was the reoccurring message at a September 12 mental health forum sponsored by Montgomery College and co-sponsored by NBC4.
Held at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus, panelists pointed out that mental health is the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada. Suicide currently is the third leading cause of death in adolescents.
“It takes strength and courage to speak up,” expressed Lisa Collins, a licensed psychologist from Mt. Pleasant S.C., who appeared on the panel.
Collins, along with other speakers on the panel, shared various guidelines how the community can address mental health illnesses. The community must have mental health literacy. The more parents understand, the more they will recognize the signs, said the panel chaired by Scot Marken, chief executive officer of the Mental Health Society of Montgomery County.
Natalie Maiden, psychology professor at Montgomery College, Takoma Park/Silver Spring, and Dr. Donna Holland-Barnes, sociology professor at Howard University, also appeared on the forum panel.
As one panelist noted, “parents must ask questions and be able to recognize if their child is being typical or troubled.”
There are programs that families can attend to become aware of mental health illnesses. Mental Health First Aid teaches what to do if you experience a mental health breakdown, they told the forum.
Family-to-Family is an educational class you can attend designed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Two speakers, one from the audience and one from the panel, agreed that Family-to-Family was a life-changing course.
Once the community has mental health literacy, one can recognize signs before mental illness occurs. If the signs are detected, support groups can be found for the patients.
“As a community, we need to talk about health and wellness,” said one audience member. A former principal of Gaithersburg High School, who was also in the audience advised, “we must let kids, teachers, community, and parents know that it is ok to talk about mental illness.”
Another audience member made a pivotal comment declaring she does not use the term “mental health illness” instead uses “mental health challenges” because of the stigma that follows. As a community, we need to change how we are talking about mental illness and actually talk about the challenge.
Nicole Cardy, a 20-year old MC student pursuing a psychology degree, told the forum that four years ago, she was diagnosed as schizoaffective and bipolar type. However, she asserted, “my illness does not define me. I will continue to be educated in my illness and in other illnesses to help others with the same challenges I face.”
For more information on mental health issues and support, please contact the Mental Health Society of Montgomery County, http://www.mhamc.org/html/index.html.