Com­mu­nity di­a­logue and early in­ter­ven­tion are es­sen­tial

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Tracy Behringer Tracy Behringer is the Com­mu­nity Out­reach Li­ai­son for the Chester County Depart­ment of Men­tal Health/In­tel­lec­tual and De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties. Con­tact Behringer at tbehringer@chesco.org.

An­other busy au­tumn is upon us. Last month we rec­og­nized Na­tional Re­cov­ery Month with sev­eral lo­cal ob­ser­vances and aware­ness events. This month there is much more hap­pen­ing for men­tal health and early in­ter­ven­tion aware­ness.

In ad­di­tion to on-go­ing free pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams for Men­tal Health First Aid and sui­cide preven­tion, Chester County is reignit­ing a cam­paigned called Com­mu­nity Con­ver­sa­tions about Men­tal Health. The idea be­hind th­ese com­mu­nity con­ver­sa­tions is straight­for­ward and very sim­ple: get peo­ple to talk about the ele­phant in our room. If our men­tal health and emo­tional well­be­ing is es­sen­tial to our over­all health, why do we avoid the topic? The goals are sim­ple too: break down mis­per­cep­tions, pro­mote healthy com­mu­ni­ties, and work to­gether to find lo­cal so­lu­tions to men­tal health needs.

Last month Chester County’s of­fice of Men­tal Health, along with the Brandy­wine Health Foun­da­tion and the Coatesville Area School Dis­trict, held a Com­mu­nity Con­ver­sa­tion at the Coatesville High School. It had been a while since I’d at­tended one, and I’d al­most for­got­ten how much I en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence. Com­mu­nity Con­ver­sa­tions about Men­tal Health are fa­cil­i­tated con­ver­sa­tions and based on a model cre­ated by the Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion (SAMHSA). At the Coatesville con­ver­sa­tion, par­ents, ad­min­is­tra­tors and com­mu­nity mem­bers met in the evening for a light din­ner and a con­ver­sa­tion about what men­tal health means to us as in­di­vid­u­als and as a com­mu­nity. We talked about our chal­lenges and our op­por­tu­ni­ties around the topic. The two hours seemed to fly by, and at the end, we hadn’t learned new skills or cre­ated any new po­lices, but ev­ery­one agreed it was a pow­er­ful, re­ward­ing and hum­bling ex­er­cise. I can’t ex­plain how it hap­pens, but I do en­cour­age folks to look for in­for­ma­tion about Com­mu­nity Con­ver­sa­tions in Chester County. You can look for in­for­ma­tion about th­ese, and other pro­grams at Chester County’s web­site, www.chesco.org/mhidd.

This month we are also cel­e­brat­ing Penn­syl­va­nia’s Prom­ise for Chil­dren Month, a cam­paign to raise aware­ness about the im­por­tance of early learn­ing. Chester County’s of­fice of In­fant and Tod­dler Early In­ter­ven­tion uses this ob­ser­vance to re­mind par­ents and care­givers that the first five years of a child’s life are ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial to brain devel­op­ment and shap­ing lit­er­acy, math

and so­cial skills. By age five, about 90 per­cent of our brains are de­vel­oped, so from birth, ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence a child has will im­pact cer­tain neu­ral cir­cuits in the brain.

Penn­syl­va­nia’s Prom­ise for Chil­dren has a help­ful web­site for par­ents and pro­fes­sion­als. In­for­ma­tion on such top­ics as brain devel­op­ment and choos­ing a qual­ity early ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, to han­dling chal­leng­ing be­hav­iors and mak­ing ends meet, are in­cluded in the Early Learn­ing GPS (Guid­ing Par­ents Smoothly). Go to www.pa­promise­forchil­dren.com and click on the GPS link to find out more.

If you would like more in­for­ma­tion about Com­mu­nity Con­ver­sa­tions about Men­tal Health, or if you would like to in­quire about hold­ing a con­ver­sa­tion at your site, con­tact me at tbehringer@chesco.org.

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