Add To Favorites

Many workking to shed stigma of mental illness

Austin American-Statesman - 1/10/2019

Jan. 10--Lake Travis area community members have committed to tackling mental health by equipping the public with tools and resources about how to help someone who is struggling from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Local therapist Sarah Cortez said that every day, 3,000 minors attempt suicide in the country and four out of five of them showed clear warning signs. Out of those 3,000, she said, 20 percent sought mental health care.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages and 10 and 24, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Taking fear away about mental health or just talking about mental health empowers someone to notice someone who may have suicidal thoughts," Cortez said. "And the more education you have, the more you feel empowered."

A new nonprofit in the area, Tune Into Life, is just getting on its feet, but, founder and Executive Director Kathleen Hassenfratz, said the group's two main goals are to provide parents and the community with tools to better understand mental health and the struggles kids deal with daily, and to get kids more involved.

Hassenfratz said suicide is not stereotypical to one type of child. While there is no one answer, she said, a lot of time kids feel disconnected or face a lot of pressure when it comes to education and social media. Cortez cited hearing similar things from some of her clients.

"What we're seeing is more stress and anxiety," Cortez said. "And what is causing this? There are bigger expectations now because the world is expanding, so there is pressure to succeed. Social media -- there is a lot of pressure there. For a lot of people social media is everything. It can be exhilarating and it can be the worst thing and it can cause anxiety and stress."

Hassenfratz said her goal is to create a place where kids can come to decompress, talk and learn how to help others and themselves. The organization hosts monthly open community meetings where local professionals are available to talk. Meeting locations in the Lake Travis area vary monthly.

As the organization continues to grow, Hassenfratz said her next step is reaching more high school students.

Lake Travis High seniors Mia Perlman and Tiffany Sun are working on just that. The two have put together a class, the Positivity Project, that educates students about mental health and recognizing symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicide.

The two have put together community presentations where local therapists and counselors talk with guests about mental health. Topics ranged from suicide prevention to stress and anxiety to depression.

"We had a few friends that did commit suicide and we didn't think there was enough awareness in our school about how we as students can help, and awareness in general that this is a problem that we have within our school," Sun said.

Perlman said the hope is that talking about mental health and educating students about the issue will also break the stigma of not seeking help through counselors or therapists. Sun said some people might not be open to it because they are afraid of talking to a stranger, or what counseling and therapy defines as.

"That is why we wanted it to be student-led," Perlman said. "So there is a medium area. Maybe students will feel more comfortable if its run by someone that goes to their school."

Cortez said just reaching out in that moment can make a difference. By knowing that one person cares can snap someone who is suicidal out of that state of mind. She said learning what to say and how to react in that moment can go a long way.

"One of the most interesting things is it's not always what you say, but just being there for the person," Perlman said. "It's one of those actions speak louder than words things."

While Perlman and Sun will graduate in May, they hope that someone will continue to carry out their project and perhaps expand on it. Hassenfratz shared a similar sentiment, adding that her goal is create a center that is welcoming to all.

"I envision a community center with pool tables and a place where they can hang out and play ping pong," Hassenfratz said. "The idea is to equip parents with resources and tools to recognize signs of mental health, and then also equipping students and children with similar resources."

___

(c)2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.