Focusing on mental health

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Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the Monroe County YMCA is putting emotional health at center stage during its “Raising Mentally Fit Kids” event. 

On Thursday, May 12, from 6-7 p.m., the YMCA will host a panel, part of its larger Starting the Conversation programming, complete with parents and Jaime Becker, a pediatric mental health specialist at Waterloo’s Heart to Heart Pediatrics, about how to approach the subject with young children and how to best help kids should concerns arise.

“Each of them are parents who have engaged in mental health conversations with their kids,” said Caroline Mitchell, executive director of community development for the Gateway Region YMCA. “It’s a chance to hear from those families and ask questions of the mental health provider.” 

A vendor fair with area mental health resources will begin at 5:30 p.m. and then resume at 7 p.m. after the panel, Mitchell said. She added all the resources featured provide free or low-cost help. 

Becker said she finds it important that the event not only include professionals like herself, but also metro east parents. 

“It takes a village to raise kids,” Becker said. “It’s important for everyone to work together for the best possible outcome.” 

The COVID pandemic brought with it an influx of mental health concerns, making it a more common topic of discussion. Becker said although it seems these figures are beginning to stabilize according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Household Pulse Survey, it’s essential to keep the conversation going. 

“It’s important to recognize if someone you care about is struggling and know where to find help,” Becker said. 

Yet, many are not seeking help until years down the road. 

Mitchell said that on average, there’s a gap of 8-10 years from when a child’s symptoms start until they get helpful treatment. 

“The earlier someone can get effective help, the less of an impact it’s going to have on their overall well-being,” Mitchell said. 

Starting the Conversation did not start with the Gateway YMCA, but rather as a nonprofit created by Julie Tang and Kate Tansey. 

Mitchell explained Tang cofounded the program as a parent who recognized how prevalent mental health concerns are – one in five kids ages 13-18 experience a mental health condition, the organization’s website said – yet the discourse surrounding them was silent. 

According to Starting the Conversation’s website, Tansey worked as a therapist and a slew of other nonprofits in St. Louis. 

Mitchell said Gateway YMCA took over management last year after Tang approached them hoping it could expand the programming. Since then, the Gateway YMCA has held four events, making the Monroe County YMCA Raising Mentally Fit Kids event its fifth. 

Based on feedback from each event, Mitchell said she’s confident they met their goals. 

“People say they’re more comfortable talking about mental health with their kids,” Mitchell said.  

To register for the event, visit gwrymca.org/starting-conversation. For more about Starting the Conversation, visit startingtheconvo.org

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