‘We’re here to listen’: Newton reaches out with mental health awareness forum


The series takes place at a time when mental health issues are reaching record levels around the world. According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a 25% global increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression. And nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness, according to 2020 data collected by the National Institute of Mental Health.

In a survey by Mass General Brigham and Newton-Wellesley Hospital, mental health was a most frequently mentioned concern and particularly affected low-income residents, the elderly and immigrants.

Among the many community partners present were Riverside Community Care, Families for Depression Awareness and the Resilience Project at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, as well as the non-profit suicide prevention organization Samaritans.

“It’s really always been important to me to work in organizations that really meet people’s immediate needs, and this organization certainly does that,” said Kathy Marchi, CEO and President of Samaritans.

According to the group’s website, Samaritans has worked for 47 years to bring suicide prevention services to residents of Massachusetts. For example, in March they launched “Hey Sam,” a youth-to-youth texting and hotline intended to match children with trained peers who could better understand what they are going through.

“The program is about matching young people with other young people on the helpline because we know young people want to talk to their friends, they want to talk to someone their own age,” she said. .

McKenzie Shane, a Grade 5 teacher at Williams Elementary School who attended the event, said the stigma associated with mental health is a significant barrier for students who need help.

“Events like this can really help normalize it, especially in the lives of students who may feel embarrassed that there is something wrong with them,” Shane said. “And these events help educators like me to be able to have that conversation and feel more comfortable.”

Another participant, Catalina Folch, a Newton resident and therapist specializing in children and adolescents, said families are integral to student mental health.

“A lot of students I work with struggle with depression and crisis,” Folch said. “Now that I know this information and can share it with parents, parents will be able to better support children.”

According to the Mass General survey, participants said that “mental health and addictions services are insufficient to meet the demand.” Survey participants also reported that most mental health providers do not accept MassHealth, resulting in low-income residents with mental illness going undiagnosed or untreated.

In January 2021, Newton Police shot and killed 28-year-old Michael Conlon after he attacked a sergeant with a knife during a confrontation in Newton Highlands. Conlon was suffering from a mental health crisis during the incident. Officers had “no reasonable alternative” to the use of deadly force at the time, a Newton District Court judge said in his March investigation report into the shooting.

“It was in my neighborhood, so it was devastating,” said Jhilam Biswas, program director of Psychiatry, Law and Society and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Biswas, who worked at Bridgewater State Hospital for six years and specializes in forensic psychiatry, said stigma and a lack of mental health awareness lead to individuals not receiving the care they need. they need until they are “in crisis” and “so sick they don’t know they need help.

“Currently, with the current state of the mental health system, it’s difficult for providers to keep track of patients’ progress if they’re not coming in for appointments or if they’re off medication,” said Biswas.

Other events scheduled as part of the series include an online crisis intervention panel on June 1 and a teen and parent seminar on June 15 at Newton North High School.

Addressing the issue of awareness and community involvement as it relates to mental health issues, Kennedy said one way for people to address mental illness within their family or community is to attend events and talk to others.

“Talk to your neighbours, talk to your family,” she said. “Having professionals [is] fine, but also just having that sense of community and support within your own family.

Cici Yu contributed reporting for this story. Walker Armstrong can be contacted at newtonreport@globe.com.


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