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Local students start youth mental health 'conversation'

Ottumwa Courier - 9/8/2023

Sep. 6—OTTUMWA — Skyllar Welch and other members of the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation Youth Alliance have been busy in the last couple years.

Busy in the fact that they're trying to remove mental health stigmas, particularly among their peers.

Welch and others presented to the Ottumwa City Council Tuesday the work the group has done over the past few years, as they've applied for funding to create mental health spaces in the four community school districts — Ottumwa, EBF, Cardinal and Pekin — that the alliance draws from.

As part of the presentation, the group requested mayor Rick Johnson to designate Sept. 19 as Youth Mental Health Day, which the council unanimously approved.

"We're here to share our journey with mental health, build awareness for youth mental health, especially in our communities," said Welch, a Cardinal student.

"And to start a long-awaited conversation."

Legacy has been on the front lines of many mental health projects since 2017, including funding an emergency-use shelter in Agency, and sensory spaces at Pickwick Early Childhood Center and the YMCA day care.

However, since last year, the focus has shifted to youth mental health, and a three-minute video as part of the presentation featured members of OHS' Stomp Out Stigma group discussing depression and anxiety, and implored the community to take youth mental health seriously.

Starting last November, Legacy has funded OHS Best Buddies, American Home Finding Association's Corinthians House, Cardinal's mental health team as well as a sensory space at James Elementary.

"It finally clicked for us in November 2021 that youth mental health was a rising concern in our group," Welch said. "We applied for grants, with five of the nine applications focused on youth mental health. Two weeks prior to applying for the grant, there were six attempts of self-harm.

"Students don't fake depression," she said. "They fake being happy."

The alliance continued its work last year when member met with local leaders to discuss the mental health situation. As a result, a brain health room as created at OHS, a calming space was put into Cardinal's teacher's lounge, and a large Zen table in the counselor's office at Cardinal.

Also, Stomp Out Stigma and the Legacy alliance went to Des Moines for the NAMI Day on the Hill to talk to legislators about the growing concern with youth mental health in schools.

The work of the alliance drew widespread praise from the council members, particularly Cara Galloway, who works as a child advocate and was a social worker with the Iowa Department of Human Services.

"The youth I've worked with over the last year and several years are absolutely phenomenal," Galloway said. "I still get people calling me about how these youth touch lives. This is what your advocacy looks like, and I thank you for all you've done and what you're going to do."

Council member Marc Roe, who just started a podcast miniseries through GOPIP focusing on mental health awareness, echoed Galloway's thoughts.

"You should be applauded for the courage and tenacity to get out and take control of ownership of not only your lives, but the lives of other kiddos that are around you. That has really transcended to the adults around you," he said. "That's very commendable."


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