WEST MILTON — In an effort to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness, Milton-Union schools will host a presentation aimed at helping people take charge of their mental health.
The school district, in partnership with the Tri-County Board of Mental Health and local non-profit Free the Mind/Anchor the Soul, is bringing award-winning speaker and mental health advocate Ross Szabo to the community on March 26.
“It just seems like we have so many — even young kids — that are dealing with all kinds of difficulties. So if we were going to prioritize issues, this is right at the top of the list,” Superintendent Brad Ritchey said.
The program, which is open to everyone in West Milton and the surrounding communities, will be held at 7 p.m. in the elementary gymnasium.
“We have been looking into speakers for probably a solid year. Just to find somebody who we felt could deliver the right message,” Ritchey said.
The district wanted to find a speaker whose message would fit in with the goals of Rachel’s Challenge, a program aimed at promoting compassion and preventing school violence, bullying and teen suicide.
“It’s been really influential here for students and staff,” Ritchey said.
Organizers were referred to Szabo after attending a program at Ginghamsburg Church about relating to teens, Ritchey said.
Szabo is the author of “Behind Happy Faces; Taking Charge of Your Mental Health,” and has developed a mental health curriculum of the same name which is used at high schools and universities like Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Szabo has been speaking about his personal experiences with bipolar disorder since he was 17. After attempting to take his own life in high school, Szabo earned a degree in psychology, served in the U.S. Peace Corps and started a company to provide mental health education.
The event, as well as two presentations for students during the school day, was made possible through a partnership with the Tri-County Board of Mental Health and Free the Mind/Anchor the Soul.
Free the Mind/Anchor the Soul was started by West Milton resident Stacy Warner after the death of her son, Bryce, to bring awareness to suicide prevention and to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness, Ritchey said.
Ritchey added that the school district has been looking for ways to address mental health after Bryce Warner’s death at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year.
“That is still very fresh in the minds of students because I believe this would have been his graduation year,” he said.
While not planned in response to renewed concerns about mental health in the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Ritchey acknowledged that the presentation comes at an especially relevant time.
Ritchey said there is a polarizing fight happening these days over gun control, but pointed out that increased mental health awareness and education could benefit communities.
“There’s a compromise somewhere in the middle. I think we need more services for schools and communities. Sometimes people just don’t know how to get in touch with the right service. Or they don’t feel comfortable asking for help,” he said. “We’re just hoping to shine a light on it.”
Reach Cecilia Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.