View From the River: Stephanie Latini – Take action on mental health

Stephanie Latini

Stephanie Latini COURTESY PHOTO

Published: 05-24-2024 12:01 PM

The warming, flowering month of May is when the season truly changes here in the Monadnock region. Our community comes alive again -- watching neighbors on long walks, children on bicycles, friends dining al fresco, and gardeners hard at work. The Children and the Arts festival marks the unofficial kickoff to these seasonal activities.

While there is no denying the benefits of physical health of being outdoors, May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. This means every person or family we see enjoying the returning sunshine has been, in some way, affected by the challenges of mental health conditions. As a youth and family educator at The River Center, I focus on working with adolescents in our schools to run groups supporting children’s mental health. This includes LifeSkills courses, Adulting 101, conflict resolution, anger management, financial literacy and personal empowerment.

One of the privileges of this position is the ability to attend seminars and trainings to stay current with best practices. To start May and Mental Health Awareness Month, Community Resource Specialist and Kinship Navigator Mandy Carter and I attended the public “Changing the Culture Around Mental Health: It’s Way Past Time” seminar presented by the Greater Monadnock Collaborative, in partnership with the Friends of the Cheshire County Recovery Court and Monadnock Family Services.

The major highlight for us was to hear former Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court John Broderick speak. He has devoted his life to spreading awareness around mental health conditions, and his message was clear -- end the stigma and as a community, as a nation, handle it with the same care and resources that we apply to physical health. He invited anyone in the audience to stand up if they have struggled, or had a family member struggle, with a mental health condition.

Without hesitation, the entire room stood up. He remarked this response happens in every auditorium, in every location, across the country, demonstrating how important and pervasive these issues truly are. Broderick shares with his audiences, from elementary schools to nursing homes, his own personal family struggle with mental health conditions while maintaining a wit and brevity that encourages real connection.

While these seminars are helpful for us to get to the heart of issues facing our community, and I invite you to attend when you can, it is not the end-all. We have the information, we have the data to support it, but now what? What can you, as an individual, actually do? The first thing is to look within yourself and your own family or circle and assess whether you have supported, or are being supported through mental health conditions. Does your family need connection,interventions, professional treatment?

This can be admittedly hard to navigate, so another way to take action is to support your local nonprofits and community partners working in mental health. The River Center is your local connector to these services, and we also offer enrichment groups and activities to help support well-being in our community. Our free tax program and money coaching, our Safe Sitter courses, our parent-and-child groups all help promote mental health through practical applications. You might even consider becoming a monthly donor to The River Center, as we know that small, consistent actions can turn into large movements.

On a more-simple note, keep talking about it. Talk to family, friends and neighbors about mental health conditions. Reduce the stigma. Vote for policies that acknowledge the issues you care about. Waiting lists for treatment are long. Demand better pay and more respect for mental health professionals working in the field, thereby encouraging young folks to enter into those careers.

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Most of all, check in with yourself, your children and grandchildren. We all need support, and I invite you to be the one who starts the conversation.

Stephanie Latini is youth and family educator at The River Center.