MILTON, Ga. — The City of Milton and the LRJ Foundation joined forces to host a mental wellness webinar Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day. It was the second year the city has partnered with a mental wellness organization for a similar event.

The webinar had added poignancy coming on the same day someone took their own life in Milton.

The panel featured Teressa Stann, co-founder of the LRJ Foundation, counselors, representatives from Fulton County Schools, Milton first responders and mental health organizations, and students from local high schools. Speakers covered a wide array of topics, including how to manage your mental health, tips for parents to in recognizing possible mental health issues with their kids, what resources are available for those struggling with a mental health issue and the pressures all are facing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The issue of mental health has added meaning for Stann, whose younger brother took his own life in 2011. Along with her sister, Karla Farina, she created the Lou Ruspi Jr. Foundation, named in honor of her brother.

The nonprofit works to improve mental wellness and prevent suicide through educational programming. The group also started the #BetterThanYesterday initiative which encourages wearing yellow to spread optimism, becoming more educated about mental health and positive self-care and coping skills.

Ruspi likened the sound of mental health issues with the noises associated with drowning — there are none.

“Silence kills more than noise ever will,” Ruspi said. “[Lou Ruspi] struggled in silence, and he passed from undiagnosed and untreated mental illness.”

Paige Santmyer, a therapist with Restoration Counseling of Atlanta, said people should listen to their “emotional messengers,” such as feeling tense, irritable or unmotivated, to indicate they need self-care.

“Self-care is doing those personal things, non-negotiable essentials that help you thrive, which is why mental healthcare looks different for everybody,” Santmyer said.

Self-care basics, she said, include a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep and incorporating physical movement into your day. People should also set healthy boundaries to know what they can and cannot take on at a particular time.

Amanda Johnson, a therapist in the Buckhead area, said due to the coronavirus, we are far more isolated than usual. To maintain healthy relationships with family members, she emphasized striking a balance of alone time and together time, make small, positive gestures for those close to us and be open about your needs.

Jewell Gooding, executive director of Mental Health America of Georgia, promoted creating a personal, daily self-care plan, whether it is psychological, emotional, physical, professional or social. People should be mindful of what they are doing to support their overall well-being on a daily basis.

Sanona Williams of Path to Change Counseling Services outlined the differences between anxiety and stress and ways to curb social media use to reduce anxiety and depression. An important aspect is the understanding that people only present the best versions of themselves on social media, and to not let that lead to feelings of inadequacy.

While caring for one’s own mental health is vital, many of the panelists discussed caring for and identifying kids struggling with their mental wellbeing.

Webb Bridge Middle School Assistant Principal Carmen Hurst said parents should gauge their kid’s anxiety about returning to class and discuss with them that school won’t be the same.

“Be positive and they will feed off that energy,” she said.

Parents should also “give grace” to their kids, school staff and themselves as everyone adjusts to a completely new way of schooling.

Jeannine Jannot, who authored “The Disintegrating Student: Super Smart and Falling Apart,” underscored the value of adults giving kids their full attention and listening with empathy to validate a kid’s emotions.  

Parents should also ask their kids what they need and to be warm, supportive and a presence for them.

“That’s the single most important factor in protecting kids from adversity and building resiliency,” Jannot said.

Validating the feelings of the youth is a point touched on by Alpharetta High School student Rohit Jivangikar, who said parents should understand the pressures teens face today are vastly different from what they might have experienced.

“I urge parents to adopt a very open-minded stance as a lot of different situations and experiences that we students go through are so unique towards the present day, especially with the pressured of COVID-19,” Jivangikar said.

Cambridge High School student Ambuja Sharma said that, as a community, we need to stop “faking it and actually believe in ourselves.”

She also gave her advice on the parent/teen relationship where mental wellbeing is concerned.

“The biggest thing I would want to tell parents out there, regardless of what your beliefs are about mental health, it’s really important to start prioritizing it,” Sharma said. “As parents, reaching out might seem awkward, it might seem hard. But asking those important questions like, ‘Hey I know you were stressed out about that math test, tell me how it affected you’ versus saying, ‘What did you get on that math test?’ Small changes like that make all the difference.”

Alpharetta High senior Daniella Clayborn suggested teens have open conversations with parents, adding that ensuring mental health can start with taking mental breaks, even if it’s just a nap.

The mental wellness webinar can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page, facebook.com/thecityofmiltonga/.

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