Observation is key to discerning mental health struggles among youth | ParkRecord.com

Observation is key to discerning mental health struggles among youth

This story is found in the Summer 2019 edition of Park City Parent.

When Shauna Wiest noticed a behavioral change in her son, she trusted her instincts.

Wiest had a feeling something was wrong so she corroborated her observations with other trusted individuals and professionals who also regularly spent time with her son, such as teachers.

Wiest suspected a behavioral health issue. But, knew she was not qualified to make that kind of diagnosis. A professional later confirmed her suspicions.

“I think parents are in the best position to know their own children,” she said. “You just have to be very open and transparent with others who have their eyes on your sons or daughters if something just doesn’t look right because very often behavioral health is confused with other problems.”

Wiest, who is the development director of the Christian Center of Park City and former director of CONNECT Summit County, knows firsthand how challenging it can be for parents whose child is suffering from a mental health issue. CONNECT was formed by a group of residents who were concerned with the mental health services available in the community.

The mental health system can be overwhelming and it is often embarrassing for parents to acknowledge their child’s condition, she said.

“There needs to be greater under- standing around mental health,” she said. “People, especially parents, don’t need to be ashamed. They wouldn’t be embarrassed if their child had cancer or diabetes. Unfortunately, there is a stigma surrounding mental health that often prevents people from seeking help for their loved ones.”

Health officials and community members have made significant strides within the last several years to address the gaps in the county’s mental health and substance abuse services and remove the stigma surrounding those issues.

“I am very encouraged with the moves that Summit County has made toward improving access and capacity toward mental health,” Wiest said. “Unlike several years ago, there are many options for parents.”

The county created Summit County’s Mental Wellness Alliance, which works with CONNECT to provide education about mental health issues and access to services. The CONNECT website includes a database of mental health providers to help parents identify treatment

options that are available for children. Ray Freer, co-founder of CONNECT, joined the effort to create more awareness surrounding mental health issues after having watching his son battle mental illness. In 2002, his son took his own life.

Freer spent more than 10 years serving on the board of Utah’s National Alliance on Mental Illness after his son’s death before eventually co-founding CONNECT. He said working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave him hope by surrounding himself with people who were dealing with similar issues. He had a similar experience with CONNECT. He encouraged other parents to do the same.

“It helps people gain a sense of community and learn that there are others who are dealing with the same thing,” he said.

The county’s three school districts have also encouraged students to become involved in the conversation. Clubs have been created at the high schools that have led to a more open dialogue among students about mental health and substance abuse.

Mary Christa Smith, coordinator for Summit County’s Communities That

Care program, emphasized the need for parents to collaborate with their children’s schools on these issues. Communities That Care is a youth prevention coalition that is part of Summit Coun- ty’s Mental Wellness Alliance.

“I hear parents will go to the school and tell them they need to solve this or that,” she said. “Schools can be a wonderful partner. But, they can’t be the solution.”

Smith said kids are becoming more interested in having these conversations. There is more of a heightened awareness surrounding mental health issues.

“There is a real thirst for knowledge,” she said. “I see it evolving in a really positive direction. We are dissolving some of that stigma and there is a willingness to talk about it. Some of if fears are if parents talk about these issues with their kids then it puts ideas in their heads and that is just not true.”

For more information about Summit County’s Mental Wellness Alliance, go to summitcountyhealth.org/welcome-sum-mit-county-mental-wellness-alliance/con- nectsummitcounty.org. The CONNECT Summit County website can be accessed at connectsummitcounty.org.

For more stories from this edition, visit the Park City Parent special section.

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