Park City community rallies around youth mental health issue
Park City School District helped sponsor the lecture for parents to seek support
The Park City School District is dedicating the whole year to safety and health. Teachers are being trained on mindfulness in the classroom and students are creating clubs to address mental health. On Monday, the district and nonprofit CONNECT Summit County partnered to continue the theme, sponsoring a workshop about youth mental health.
The event, which took place at the Park City Library, included a short clip of the documentary “No Letting Go” and a presentation from the woman whose story inspired the film, Randi Silverman. Silverman, co-founder and CEO of the Youth Mental Health Project, spoke about ways every member of the community can become knowledgeable about mental health issues so they can, in turn, remove the negative stigma typically associated with them.
About 40 parents, students, district employees and community members gathered to listen and discuss the need for increased awareness and resources, particularly in the schools. Benjamin Belnap, assistant superintendent of student wellness, said the district came to learn from Silverman, but also to hear from the public and start finding solutions to meet residents’ needs.
He said that the district’s No. 1 goal is to connect with parents and students in order to create a framework that promotes all around health, especially mental health. During the presentation, Silverman mentioned that as a parent of a child suffering with a mental health condition, she often felt ashamed to tell her son’s teachers the truth for fear of being judged.
Instead, she would make up fake physical illnesses, an admission that some parents in the audience nodded along to.
“I don’t want parents to feel like they have to make something up, like a stomach ache, when something else is wrong,” Belnap said. “If parents don’t feel comfortable coming to us with that, that’s our fault.”
He said that teacher training is one of the first steps, since many do not know how to respond when a parent comes to them to say, for example, that their child is suicidal. The training would include viewing mental conditions as chronic physical conditions are viewed, which Silverman explained in her presentation.
“It’s a chronic issue and it’s ok. It’s nothing to be embarrassed of,” Belnap said. “I like the idea of it as a chronic illness. Diabetes is something you manage. You’re not ill if you have diabetes.”
He also hopes to provide more resources to student groups that address the issue, like the Mental and Physical Advocacy Coalition (MPACT) at Park City High School, which began this year.
Several of the members of the club’s board attended the event in order to learn more about mental health, such as Audrey Buchanan, 15, a sophomore.
She is excited that the district and the community at large are placing more of an emphasis on holistic well-being. Buchanan agreed with Silverman, who mentioned during her lecture that the district has taken big steps toward addressing mental health. Two years ago, there was nothing, Silverman said.
“That’s a very accurate depiction,” Buchanan said. “Recently [mental health] has become much more recognized.”
Parents and community members also seemed to rally behind the effort to raise awareness of mental health conditions, which affect 80 million adults and 18 million children in the U.S., Silverman said. At the end of the program, parents were asking how they could get involved in support groups and round-table discussions locally.
Valery Behr is a Park City parent with a son who has been diagnosed with Asberger Syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder. She came to learn about resources and found a community of parents with a history of similar experiences to hers.
“I live in a world that’s very isolated,” she said. “Being around other parents and people who’ve been through challenges with their children are really important to me. It can be hard to reach out because you are so tired.”
Behr learned that other parents like her exist and was reminded that her son’s condition is manageable, which is something Silverman was trying to communicate throughout her presentation.
“Mental health issues are becoming an epidemic,” she said. “It impacts millions of people and millions of families, and we’ve got to start doing something about it.
A Park City High School senior facing 18 criminal charges admitted to releasing pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall last month to prevent a conservative school club from hosting an event.