When my brother died by suicide five years ago, we were speechless. Despite the ways he struggled personally, we never considered suicide as a possibility for him. In an instant, mental health became more real to me.
My opinions, preconceived ideas, and stigmas changed. Before his death, I don’t remember any conversations I’d had about the topic. With the ever-rising suicide rates and the latest media attention surrounding suicide, there is an increased need to shine more light on mental health. Starting conversations about mental health and wellness are crucial to fighting against stigma and giving people the tools needed to identify signs and symptoms with their own loved ones.
The High Desert Mental Health Summit held at High Desert Church (HDC) last week aimed to gather and create a community of professionals, advocates, and those with life experience to start a conversation about mental health. Conference partners, St. Mary’s Community Health and HDC organized this conference geared toward medical professionals as well as the general public by introducing the new segmented format, which was a change from last year. The second half of the conference was free and open to the public while the first half was more specific to medical professionals and required a registration fee.
Additional presentations were made by counselors from the San Bernardino County Behavioral Health: Children & Youth Department and the Regional Administrator for Valley Star, Inc which is a crisis response center located in the high desert. These presentations proved that there are several mental health resources here in the high desert (Resources provided below).
Dr. Mike Marino began the conference with a discussion and tips for “helping as a helper”. His emphasis was on the mental health and wellness of those who are helping patients in crisis and how their own health greatly impacts the level of service they can provide. He ended his segment with a call to action: “Walk with them through suffering, but don’t take it away.” I thought he nailed it here. This is true even if you aren’t in the medical profession. We just want to “fix” it, don’t we? Take it all away and make it better? What Dr. Marino pointed out was that there are some good things in this life only suffering can bring. So, we just walk with them through it.
Panel discussions began as breakout sessions across the HDC campus. Attendees were able to choose from the following four-panel topics: Spirituality and Mental Health, Suicide: Signs and Support, Substance Abuse: Addiction and Mental Health, and Support Groups: How to Select, Start, and Sustain. I was a panel speaker for the Suicide: Signs and Support panel where we discussed the suicide crisis in our county and answered questions from the audience regarding their own experiences with suicide and mental health.
“Mental health struggles are a family affair.”
The Gym at HDC was filled with resource tables for all the services providers in the high desert. Many exhibitors donated their time to be there as a way to extend a hand and resources to those in need.
Dr. Marino came back to the stage to discuss how mental health struggles are a “family affair.” This was such an important discussion on how having a family member with a mental illness can cause tension within a family. The most beautiful point that Dr. Marino touched on was ways to simplify your life as much as possible. Let love be the banner for your family and take unnecessary obligations from your plate. I just love this because I can envision a family working together as a team and rallying around each other to help their loved one get well.
The second half of the summit began with Joseph Robinson from “Each Mind Matters,” the organization responsible for the “Know the Signs” campaign which focuses on educating others to know the signs of suicide. Robinson discussed the stigma around mental health and some of the ways in which Each Mind Matters is challenging it by starting conversations among teens and college-aged students. The organization provided lime green ribbons for conference attendees in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness month. More information on the “Know the Signs” campaign can be found at www.suicideispreventable.org.
Pastor David Mandani gave his testimony of hope as a pastor living with schizophrenia. Mandani’s journey toward wellness and resilience was filled with some very low-low’s, at one point deciding to end his life. He credits the hope of Jesus and his relationships with those around him for where he is in his journey today. He currently serves as the pastor of mental health at Saddleback Church. His call to action for the Church at the end of the night was timely and needed. The Church has a unique position to LOVE those who are sick, to start the conversations surrounding mental health, and to come together to provide help and hope for those who are hurting.
I was honored to be a part of such an amazing event. I held hands with a woman who shared her story of suicide attempts and how giving her life to Jesus Christ saved her life. I discussed signs and symptoms, mental health care, and survivor guilt with a room full of strangers who have been affected by suicide. The High Desert Mental Summit was a needed event here in the high desert. It was full of love and hope and the small changes we can make as a community.
It starts in our homes. One conversation at a time. Challenging the stigma by having uncomfortable conversations.
Let us extend a hand, reach out to a neighbor, smile at a stranger, and cultivate hope.
Lives will be saved.
For an extended printable list of helpful resources see Community Resources 3pgs.
April is a wife, mother, business owner, and author. She published her first children’s book in 2016. She owns and operates www.thestampedlily.com, a small jewelry business she runs from home. She now writes on grief, loss, and community, among other topics via the platform God’s given her through her creative business. April uses her writing and her jewelry designing as creative outlets to help inspire and encourage others.