Much has been discussed about the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on everyone’s mental health.
But a big worry is specifically for the mental health of children and youth, who lost out on in-person school and social activities and development.
While some districts returned to the classroom after several months of school remotely, some districts like Akron Public Schools stayed out for a year.
District officials and even parents in a survey sent by the district asking about their concerns from the pandemic answered prevailingly that their concerns were about students’ social skills, abilities to cope emotionally and their mental health.
A film that will debut on Tuesday, March 29 at the Highland Square Theatre in West Akron is addressing the issue of mental health in our children and youth — and offering help.
The film, “Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness: Youth and Young Adults,” is the second documentary by Gloria A. Terry, executive producer and director and filmmaker James “Bobby” Heard.
Readers may recall a column I wrote last summer about Terry and Heard’s first film, also called “Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness,” which focused on the stigma of mental illness, particularly in the Black community. It also addressed the role the church has had or how the church in some cases may not have helped its members.
There will be a panel discussion of experts to discuss the issue and solutions for youth mental health, after the showing. Additionally, there will be several local organizations in attendance to offer assistance.
Youth and their mental health is top of mind right now.
Even Ohio Governor Mike DeWine in his State of the State address a few days ago spent time addressing the issue of mental health.
“Mental illness remains on the rise in Ohio,” DeWine said. “Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death for Ohioans ages 10 to 64, with the rate rising in rural Ohio and in our communities of color.”
The governor called for a major investment in Ohio’s behavioral health workforce, research, capacity at crisis services providers and outpatient facilities.
“My friends, the system isn’t broken,” DeWine said. “It was just never fully built.”
Short videos turned into full-length documentaries
The film started out as two short videos on the subject of adult and youth mental health funded by an $18,000 grant in December 2020 from the state of Ohio. But Terry and Heard quickly realized they needed to do more than a short video. They funded the two full-length documentaries on their own and hope to get sponsorships.
The first film has had showings through other organizations, including churches, but is not available for streaming for the general public. Terry, founder of the nonprofit Grace Academy of Small Wonders and a mental health certified coach and grief recovery specialist, said the film isn’t meant to be only watched.
“The whole idea is not just to watch it. The idea is to use it as a tool to provoke conversation about mental illness and provide community resources,” she said.
The filming was done completely during the pandemic, so it addresses the mental health challenges amid COVID, said Heard.
Heard said COVID also created a challenge for filming, but he was able to sit down with students and talk to them about five major topics, including social media, managing their emotions, health challenges that minority men have relating to their mental health.
The film also looks at barriers to having someone from your own culture as a mental health therapist, who can understand where they are, said Heard.
Terry’s nonprofit, Grace Academy of Small Wonders, launched in 2012 as a way to empower elementary girls around character, awareness and etiquette. Terry started it after a relative was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the mid to late 1990s and she could find very little support for the girl’s depression and anxiety and her own depression from the incident.
Her program works with students in the Akron Public Schools and Terry is also a part-time family liaison through the schools.
Terry said educators are seeing the mental health effects from COVID “in the Akron public school district with the increase in behavior issues among the young people. We’re really realizing that is a fallout of isolation, COVID, remote learning and children not being able to be in a social environment and to learn socially.
“Some of the mental health professionals still don’t know the full impact of how this is going to affect our young people, even as they grow into adults. I just was at training on Monday and one of the things that was said is oftentimes when the child is with a mental health issue when they’re young, if it’s not addressed, that it continues on into adulthood, so they don’t even know what to expect, because it’s all so new,” she said. “We’re seeing with suicide ideation and an increase in suicides and especially among African American youth.”
Doors will open 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Highland Square Theatre for the 6:30 p.m. showing. The film runs approximately an hour. A $10 donation is suggested to attend.
After the film, a panel of six local experts will discuss the issues and solutions. The panel includes:
- Brooks Collins-Gaines, a mental health therapist with Akron Children’s Hospital.
- Emily Bon, senior manager of integrated services and trauma-informed care for Child Guidance & Family Solutions.
- Pete Pruitt, CEO and founder of the Peter James Development Mental Health Agency.
- Leslie Stoyer, executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness Summit County.
- Erich Merkle, Akron Public Schools school psychologist.
- Pastor Jeffrey Dennis, founder, CEO of Minority Behavioral Health Group.
Bringing help and hope
Terry said she hopes “to reduce the stigma through education, allow people to look at themselves and deal with their issues to get the help they might need and take action.”
Terry and Heard said the film is appropriate for school-aged children, if their parents want to bring them or come and learn more to start the family discussions.
“Historically, people have just not had the tools to cope with and deal with things,” Heard said.
Terry also thinks the film would be helpful for educators, who have also been under a lot of stress.
“This film will educate them to understand what our environment is, give them some tools to be supportive and helpful so we can all work together collaboratively and provide some solutions and especially provide some hope for our young people because a lot of them are feeling helpless and feeling sad and dealing with anxiety, even anxiety from violence.”
For more information about the film, go to https://reducingthestigmaofmentalillness.info
Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher