Indiana County’s mental health needs were in the spotlight Aug. 10 at a seminar at Indiana Area Senior High School.
There was a 90 minute symposium where several speakers addressed mental health issues, with a particular focus on suicide prevention.
This was followed by an hour-long training session on QPR – Question, Persuader, Refer – from the Indiana County Suicide Task Force.
Indiana Area School District Superintendent Michael J. Vuckovich said the district worked with The Open Door as well as the Community Guidance Center, Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, and Alice Paul House on the program that opened with an hour for vendors in the high school hall.
The vendors represented a slew of organizations, including several from the Blairsville area where the Blairsville Drug Support Group meets the first Wednesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Blairsville.
In turn, the group and church sponsor Blairsville Area Reality Tour, a local chapter of an effort led by Butler-based Candle Inc., whose mission is “to unite communities to establish a plan of action for prevention of youth substance abuse now”, and whose vision is “to prevent youth substance abuse in all communities”.
Also this week, Becky Kallal-Perkovich, who manned the booth on behalf of the Reality Tour and other Blairsville-area entities at IAHS, announced Indiana County’s Seventh Annual Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil. August 31, beginning at 6 p.m. and ending with the actual candlelight session from 8 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at Faith Lutheran Church on Route 22 east of Blairsville.
Kallal-Perkovich posted on Facebook that the event will feature music, vendors offering information, networking, resources, Narcan, and a memory craft table where one can craft their own special item, using materials such as photos of loved ones.
At the IAHS, Indiana County District Attorney Robert F. Manzi Jr. introduced the first high school auditorium speaker, Joshua Giuliano, director of outpatient clinics at the Community Guidance Center.
Manzi said many of those in the lobby represent agencies also involved in one form or another with the program.
They also included Family Behavioral Resources, Armstrong Indiana Drug Free Coalition, Hopeful Hearts and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The Indiana Borough Police Department, whose Sgt. Jeff Hoag brought a real star to meet – his department’s K-9 Axel comfort.
According to the QPR Institute, which developed the curriculum for this post-symposium training — and similar sessions held across the county — “ask, persuade, refer” are steps anyone can learn to help prevent suicide.
Essentially, said Matt Frank, crisis intervention coordinator for behavioral health organization The Open Door in downtown Indiana, if a friend or loved one is thought to be at risk of suicide , find out.
He wanted to set aside what he called a myth about not talking about it, saying “asking for something doesn’t put that idea in another person’s head.”
Giuliano focused, among other things, on the latest investigation of Pennsylvania youth conducted by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
In 2021, 85.2% of respondents in Indiana County said “I feel safe,” compared to 82% statewide.
However, 21% of respondents in Indiana County and 23.2% of those surveyed statewide said, “I have been bullied in the past 12 months.”
“I feel sad or depressed,” said 31.8% of Indiana residents, compared to 40.1% statewide.
“I self-harm,” said 14.8% of Indiana County youth surveyed, compared to 17.6% statewide.
The survey is conducted every two years and asks students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 about mental health, substance use, suicide and other topics.
Guiliano also had numbers from United Way of Indiana County: 20% of teens have a diagnosable mental health issue, while only half are in treatment.
Guiliano also cited United Way, saying suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24.
He also quoted the National Institute of Mental Health as saying that the brain continues to develop after it grows, until its late twenties, with the prefrontal cortex of the brain being the last part to fully develop.
This was a topic addressed by the next speaker, Mike Krafick, who has been drug free for 14 years and trains others on how to help people recover from addiction.
He provided this statistic from the American Medical Association: Alcoholism has been declared a disease since 1956.
He also provided AMA criteria for a disease, which can also describe addictions: a pattern of symptoms, chronic, progressive, but treatable – and prone to relapse.
Citing “The Science of Addiction Recovery” and providing some of the slides from that program, Krafick said it was a complex question.
“How do alcohol and other drugs act in the brain? asked the program. “Despite many differences. virtually all substances with addictive potential affect dopamine levels in the brain’s pleasure/reward pathway.
In turn, alcohol and drugs can replace other better ways to reach dopamine, through food, rest, sexual activity, and other means.
Other speakers included Audia Boyles and Whitney Carmichael of Alice Paul House.
“We’re completely sold out,” said Boyles, executive director of the facility, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. “We work with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, Title 18 crimes and juvenile offenders.”
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