Meeting to focus on improving area's mental health safety net

Meeting to focus on improving area's mental health safety net

DANVILLE — In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December, the Vermilion County Mental Health 708 Board is organizing a town hall meeting to discuss improving the area's mental health safety net to prevent school violence as well as suicide and other forms of self-harm among adolescents and young adults.

The town hall will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Bremer Theater at Danville Area Community College, 2000 E. Main St., Danville.

It is open to local educators, social service providers, law enforcement, court and government officials and interested citizens.

"This isn't a forum to discuss gun issues. It's a forum to discuss what we can do as the mental health sector to help," said Dee Ann Ryan, the board's executive director.

"We want to be solution-focused," she continued, adding the board wants to gauge the level of concerns, and gather input for a countywide strategic plan to increase professional and public awareness of the signs and symptoms of mental illness and crises, and improve services for people who have or might have a disorder that could result in violence or self harm.

The meeting will feature a panel discussion with Kenneth Polky, executive director of the Human Resources Center of Edgar and Clark Counties, who will talk about offering mental health first aid and a grant to fund it, and Carol Gall, executive director of Mental Health America Illinois, who will talk about mental health screenings for teens and the response to disasters. Also, a representative from I Sing the Body Electric will present data on health risks and behaviors of Vermilion County teens, and Danville police Officer Chad Turner, the resource officer at South View Middle School in Danville, will talk about what's being done to make schools safe.

A question-and-answer session will follow.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in five Americans experiences some sort of mental illness in a given year. However, only about 60 percent get treatment.

Ryan also pointed to local statistics among youth collected in an I Sing the Body Electric report. According to a 2010 survey:

— 3,164 high school students, or 77.1 percent of the high school population, 40.6 percent of girls and 24.5 percent of boys reported experiencing depression (feeling sad and hopeless everyday for at least two weeks).

— One in three girls and one in six boys reported cutting or hurting themselves on purpose.

— One in six girls and one in eight boys reported making suicide plans sometime during the year, which was a decline from 2002.

— While attempted suicide rates decreased from 2002 to 2010, the Vermilion County rate of 12.4 percent was still nearly twice as high as the national rate of 6.3 percent.

Ryan also plans to distribute information on the Safe Schools Healthy Student initiative, a community-wide approach to creating safe and drug-free schools, preventing violence and promoting safety and discipline.

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