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Raising Healthy Children with Healthy Minds

Mental Health Forum On Children and Youth

A Mental Health Forum on Children and Youth, hosted by Del. Rob Krupicka, will be held Saturday, May 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lee Recreation Center, 1108 Jefferson Drive, Alexandria. This community forum will feature an update on the mental health bills at this year’s General Assembly as well as panel discussions on mental health issues, services, and needs in Northern Virginia. Also attending will be state Sen. Adam Ebbin, Del. Scott Surovell and representatives from area Community Services Boards (Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax-Falls Church) and the Alexandria Public Schools. Childcare will be provided for children ages 4 and up by advance registration to Donielle.Marshall.... For more information about the forum, contact Donielle.Marshall...

Back in 2011 President Obama announced the creation of a National Prevention Strategy, a comprehensive country-wide plan to increase the number of Americans who are healthy, both mentally and physically at every step of their lives. In the wake of Newtown, a new discussion erupted over mental health and the need to improve services.

That was wonderful news to advocates, families and those with mental illnesses themselves. But it soon became obvious that in many circles what political leaders were talking about was not more and better services that would guarantee good mental health for everyone, but putting people away without due process, in other words a return to those past practices that destroyed people’s minds and lives as well as their families.

It hasn't happened yet, but if we loosened the safeguards and removed the civil rights of anyone deemed mentally ill, we would quickly find out that the difficult wife or laudanum- soaked mother of an Arthur Conan Doyle plot was not just a favorite twist of the Victorian novel, but a reality. It was very easy until the mid-20th century to get rid of the misbehaving teen-age girl, the aging wife or the difficult mother this way. I use the feminine because it was women who were most often put away. Children, born to these women, also remained in the asylums, often for their entire lives because they were obviously tainted. Not exactly what we should be striving for in the 21st century.

Mental Health is not the absence of disease, but a part of overall good health. It is the ability of an individual to know who they are, to be able to develop into the best person they can be and to make the decisions that are the best for them. To grow up to be a whole individual, self-directed and able to take responsibility for his or her actions, a child needs, not only adequate, food, clothing and shelter but appropriate accessible medical care, a family that gives unconditional love, and opportunities for education, recreation and the chance to do meaningful work.

Mental illness on the other hand is a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and affects daily functioning. In this country, in any given year, one in four persons will experience a mental illness. The most common is anxiety. Only a few on the other hand develop the most serious mental illnesses and only a very small percentage of those become violent toward others. The good news is that recovery is possible even for those with the most serious mental illnesses. But to get a chance to recover, a person needs to know they need help and have access to the services they need.

The biggest barrier to getting those services is stigma The World Health Organization, based in Geneva noted in 2004 “The stigma, discrimination and human rights violations that individuals and families affected by mental disorders suffer are intense and pervasive. Effective prevention can do a lot to alter these perceptions and hence change the way mental disorders are looked upon by society.”

That prevention begins with education. Everyone needs to know what the signs and symptoms of mental illness, developmental delays and behavioral problems are. They need to know what they can and cannot do and need to understand that no one is exempt. There is a very American fantasy that if a person follows all the rules and does everything they are supposed to for good health, nothing bad can happen to them or their families. So there is no need to know or understand mental health issues.

But that isn't true. Everyone is touched by trauma, unexpected and unexplained. Violence can be on the television news or the Internet but it can also be a violent accident just ahead of you on the highway, or an inexplicable shooting in the store you visited the day before or a fire in the house next door. Everyone experiences serious family illness or death, not to mention job loss, divorce or an unplanned move.

That's why parents and grandparents and anyone who works with children should come to the forum on Children And Youth mental health on Saturday, May, 18 at the Lee Center. Learn from delegates Rob Krupicka, Scott Surovell and state Sen. Adam Ebbin, about the legislation that passed during this year's legislative session, legislation that will improve the mental health of children and college students. Also learn what still needs to be done. You will receive an explanation of Mental Health First Aid for Youth, a new program being offered in Alexandria to all those involved with children, a program that was funded thanks to Krupicka. Neely Hughey and Jocelyn Mitchell, staff from the Alexandria Community Services Board will explain the program. Thomas Wallace, bureau chief of Children's Behavioral Healthcare Services at the Arlington Community Services Board and Pouneh Zeraat, a substance abuse counselor from the Fairfax Falls Church Community Services Board will explain their programs and discuss what is available for youth and children. Terry Wright, lead social worker at the Alexandria Public Schools will also speak.

Doors will open at 11:30 a.m. with light snacks provided. The discussion will begin at noon. Childcare is available for ages 4 and up. For childcare reservations, email donielle.marshall@alexandriava.gov or call 703-746-3523.

The Lee Center is at 1108 Jefferson Street in Alexandria and those attending should go to the main entrance. Ample parking is available behind the building.

The forum is co-sponsored by the Alexandria CSB, the Friends of the Alexandria Health Center, Alexandria's Anti-Stigma HOPE Campaign, NAMI of Northern Virginia, the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, Therapeutic Recreation Program and the Department of Community and Human Services.