Pictured, Carri Raynor Project Coordinator, Suicide Prevention Alliance of Chautauqua County.
WESTFIELD, N.Y.:--Normalizing mental health conversations is a top priority for the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene (CCDMH). Working in partnership with the Chautauqua Tapestry Resilience Initiative and the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Chautauqua County, Carri Raynor, Christina Breen and Rachel Ludwig presented mental health, suicide prevention, and self-care information to over 100 students in grades 6 through 12 at Westfield Academy and Central School.
Jake Hitchcock, Dean of Students and Health Education teacher at Westfield Academy and Central School approached CCDMH. Through Hitchcock’s role in the school he said, “I have noticed an increased need for a more in-depth discussion on mental health in general. I had reached out to CCDMH to come into my classes to share their knowledge on this topic in hopes of providing additional resources and opening some additional doors for my students to access if needed, and I believe this was accomplished.”
The programming provided by CCDMH focused on normalizing mental health challenges, stress management, providing strategies on stress management, and exploring ways, we can better navigate big emotions such as depression, anxiety, and anger. Christina Breen, Mental Health Trainer and Coordinator said, “It is vital to tell stories and share experiences. For young people, they tend to feel things in big ways, and those experiences when we are younger are valid; they ARE big. We want to shift the conversation to exploring ways to get through those big things. We also want young people to know that they are not alone. To know that many of us of have gone through similar experiences and have made it through. We have to provide practical solutions along with hope.”
According the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people ages 10 - 34. There are many reasons young people find it difficult to reach out; social stigma and lack of knowledge around resources are often the biggest barriers.
Carri Raynor, Mental Health Trainer and Coordinator of the Suicide Prevention Alliance said, “We should talk about the stigma behind mental health and suicide because it prevents many of us from reaching out for help. When we talk about suicide, we recognize this could be the result of a mental health crisis. Mental health matters and seeking help should be encouraged. There are many national and local resources for young people. We were so glad to be invited to Westfield, to talk about hope and to share resources.”
Also providing support throughout the conversations were Amy Brinkley, Middle School Counselor and Scott Cooper, High School Counselor.
Brinkley said, “It’s vital for us to continue our efforts to destigmatize mental health issues by talking to youth, and the logical place to start these discussions is in schools. Empowering students to ask for help when they are struggling, and delivering the message that asking for assistance is BRAVE, is so important today.”
Counselors were encouraged to participate in the conversations, normalizing that adults struggle too. This helps strengthen trust and connection between teachers and students, making it easier for young people to reach out.
Cooper said, “Students were given tips, tools, and tricks to help improve their mental health, and outreach, if needed. It was an outstanding program and I highly recommend the program for all schools.”
Prioritizing the mental health of students in our County starts with these important conversations. There are many trainings and resources that CCDMH can provide to local school districts in Chautauqua County, in addition to school-based behavioral health clinics in Jamestown and Dunkirk schools. CCDMH employees have an unstoppable passion for shifting the mental health culture in the community.
Brinkley emphasized the impact from the programming by saying, “CCDMH provides a valuable resource for schools when it comes to leading talks on what can be some sensitive topics for young people regarding mental health.”
CCDMH can tailor programming to a school district’s needs for students and staff. For a full list of no-cost resources, available programming, and training opportunities visit chqgov.com/mental-hygiene and preventsuicidechq.com For immediate inquiries, email Breenc@chqgov.com and Raynorc@chqgov.com.
If you are experiencing a crisis, contact the 24/7 Chautauqua County Crisis Hotline at 1-800-724-0461, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. You are not alone.