'It's easy to have these conversations'
September 01, 2010 - The community response is overwhelmingly positive.
| From left, LOHS students Theo Zucker, Cheyenne Wallace, Addison Gribbin, Savannah Gonsuaulin, and Tahra Gribbin dressed up and worked the crowd. (click for larger version)|
That's the word from Karen Hudson, who said she was "very pleasantly surprised" by the reaction from those who stopped by the 1,000 Conversations About Mental Health in Lake Orion tent at last weekend's Dragon on the Lake event.
After she and her husband Hugh lost their son, Michael, to suicide in 2009, the Hudsons knew they had to do something to help spare other families from the kind of devastation they — and six other families in the community – had recently experienced in losing a child to suicide.
As part of the growing 1,000 Conversations group, the Hudsons are part of a working to assemble a group of "Community Partners" and equip them with the resources, knowledge and comfort level to have conversations about mental health.
In other words, promote awareness and education to help de-stigmatize the idea of "mental health" and encourage those who need help to seek it.
Dragon on the Lake was the organization's first big public outing.
"The biggest surprise is that it's easy to have these conversations," Hudson said. "When you provide people with one fact or statistic about mental health , they open up. People want to talk – everyone has a story."
To encourage conversations and dialogue, the group had a game show-type wheel participants could spin for a question about mental health.
Kids who were too young for a question from the list but still wanted to spin the wheel got an alternate question.
Generally, facilitators asked 'If someone pushed you on the playground, what would you do? Would you tell someone? Who?"
Nearly every child said they'd tell a teacher. Almost none, even when asked, said they'd inform their parents.
"That was really surprising," Hudson said. "It used to be we'd talk to our kids and role play about what to do around strangers, and we still do. But now we need to talk to them about bullying, too, and let them know it's OK to tell us these things."
Orion Township Clerk Penny Shults recently came aboard to help support the group, and spent some time manning the tent during the weekend.
"People were so thankful for the opportunity to talk," Shults said. "These are important issues we need to address, so I'm glad this is happening."
Dessa Stone, Ph.D, a psychologist who owns and practices from the Indianwood Phycology group, agreed, noting the group's display – which pictured famous people who struggle with mental health issues, was important.
"The entire display gives people permission to talk or ask questions about things they might otherwise be embarrassed to discuss," she said. "It's a safe place, and that's what people need."
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Common Ground Sanctuary, in conjunction with MINDS, 1000 Conversations about Mental Health, and Lake Orion High School, has been awarded a grant to provide two ASIST workshops this September.
ASIST, said Shawn Force, Crisis Line and Special Programs Coordinator at Common Ground, stands for applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, and is the most widely used suicide intervention training in the world.
Any Oakland County residents who work with youth ages 10-24 in any capacity can attend the workshop, scheduled for September 11-12 and September 25-26.
ASIST training usually costs more than $200, but the grant funding will allow Common Ground to provide the training for $40 per person.
Scholarships are available to those with tight finances. For more information or to register, call Shawn Force at 248- 451-2611 or Cheryl Ross at 248-451-2614 .
Lake Orion Review Editor