CHAMPAIGN — Representatives from area mental health organizations told Champaign school parents that professionals are ready to provide critical services to anyone following a traumatic event.
About 40 people turned out at Franklin Middle School on Thursday night for a forum on mental health.
An outpatient therapist and representatives from seven different organizations were on hand to tell parents about mental health services that are available locally.
Sheri Williamson, vice president of Champaign's Parent Teacher Association Council, said the forum was organized to increase awareness about mental health following last month's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"We really want to start a dialogue among the parents, administrators and the community to address mental health issues to prevent what happened in Connecticut from happening here," Williamson said.
"When I heard what happened in Connecticut, it broke my heart," said Jennifer Anderson, whose son attends Franklin and whose daughter attends Dr. Howard School.
Williamson said people sometimes are hesitant about addressing mental health concerns among children, adolescents and adults.
"We don't want there to be any stigma about mental health, and we want to invite the people of our community to take advantage of local mental health resources," she said.
Matt Stinson of Crosspoint Human Services said different organizations need to begin discussions on working together with the schools to help people in the community.
"We need to address concerns related to mental health in the shadow of what happened recently out in Connecticut," Stinson said.
Many of the forum participants stressed that prevention of potential mental health issues is just as important as reacting to incidents in which people are hurt.
"Sometimes parents recognize there is an issue with their child, but they struggle knowing what to do," said Lisa Benson of Community Elements.
Lisa Perry of Rape Advocacy, Counseling and Education Services said her organization is ready and willing to provide services to victims, survivors and family members affected by sexual assault.
Perry said sometimes people in need don't know where to go to get the help they need.
"People need help, they need guidance, and our facility is available to provide services," she said.
Mark Driscoll of the Champaign County Mental Health Board encouraged parents to turn to the Help Book or its website— http://helpbook.famservcc.org/  — to find available human and social services in Champaign County.
Williamson said access to information about mental health resources will also be part of a safety fair being planned for this April at Stratton Elementary School. Willamson said an exact date had not yet been set.
Other organizations making presentations at the forum included the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, the East Central Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and The Prairie Center.