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Mental health festival aims to stop stigmas
Foster's Daily Democrat - 1/10/2020
Jan. 10--ROCHESTER -- A local woman is organizing a downtown festival to help break down stigmas and societal barriers surrounding mental wellness.
Autumn Sturtevant said her goal is an all-ages community event that forges connections between people, supports people who struggle with mental health disorders, educates the general public, connects people with resources, and helps normalize talking about the feelings and difficulties that many feel they must hide, ignore or downplay.
"Everyone has mental health," said Sturtevant, who works as a home health aid. "It's not just people with a disease. And I think that if we started to move in that state of mind, it would definitely make a difference."
The first Rochester Mental Health Awareness Festival will be held May 31, to coincide with National Mental Health Month. Sturtevant is in the process of securing vendors, live music and other entertainment, area social service agencies, volunteers, and subject matter experts and professionals for the festival.
The plan is to have the main portion of the event on city-owned property along the Cocheco River and North Main Street, across from Lilac City Grille. Sturtevant said she hopes local businesses and other surrounding areas will also join in to provide simultaneous attractions, like what happens during established Rochester street festivals like Pride and Free Comic Book Day, given that her festival is meant to be a full community celebration.
"That's why I called it a festival," Sturtevant said, adding that a specialized seminar or non-celebratory event wouldn't be broad enough or do enough to take mental health out of the shadows. "Everyone can be one incident away from a depressive state or a suicidal state, and if we don't take of ourselves when we're in a good condition ... the damage has been done. (People are) already in a bad condition when they (usually) think, 'Maybe I should get this checked out?' It should be routine, just like going for a physical or going for a dental checkup."
Sturtevant said she has personally experienced many struggles due to her borderline personality disorder, an emotional dysregulation disorder.
She said her personal experience with stigma, societal issues affecting people of all ages, and the coping skills she's learned through sessions at Salmon Falls Behavioral Health have shown many people who are struggling would benefit from a more accepting community and greater overall understanding.
"I think that for future generations and our youth, it's extremely important to publicize these things," she said. "It may not remove the opioid crisis or completely (eliminate) the suicide rates and things like that, but learning from an early age how to care for yourself mentally could give us a brighter future."
Todd Radict, the owner of Skele-Tone Records and one of the downtown business leaders supporting the festival, said what Sturtevant is trying to do is "beautiful."
"I think it would bring the community together and make people aware of the situation that's going on," said Radict, who is also one of the leaders of the pro-revitalization community group Rochester Rise Up. "A lot of individuals put people down and don't understand what they're going through... It might change their ideas of how things are around here. Hopefully it will also get some more resources in our town."
Anyone interested in participating in or helping organize the first Rochester Mental Health Awareness Festival on May 31 is asked to contact Sturtevant at 923-0439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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