Community Conversations: Mental health issues on the table

Mental health, once a subject shrouded in whispers and a condition poorly addressed by health insurance plans, has moved steadily from the shadows in recent years.

To further the dialogue, area Leagues of Women Voters, town social services departments and mental health agencies have brought Community Conversations on Mental Health, a national initiative, to Fairfield County.

A three-part conversation will begin Wednesday, March 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Gilbert & Bennett Cultural Arts Center, 49 New Street in Georgetown. Ensuing conversations will take place at the same time, same place on March 26 and April 2. The community is invited to sign up by Friday, March 14, at HealthyMindsCT.org.

“It was Wilton Social Services — Colleen Fawcett and Cathy Pierce — who initially brought us all together,” said Amy Harris, president of the Wilton League of Women Voters.

The focus will be on the unmet needs of the participating towns — Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding — Cathy Pierce, director of Wilton Social Services, said.

“The mental health board has been reaching out to all of the towns to do this,” she added. The meetings are designed for participation by the public and attendance by members of the community is encouraged. The most can be gained by attending all three meetings, she added.

Ms. Pierce said she attended a similar meeting at the Norwalk Senior Center. “We talked about what is seen as major problems. Is it drugs, depression, the elderly, the schools?” she recalled. “What services are out there, what would you like to see better?

“The goal of something like this is to bring mental health issues out into the open and have it be less stigmatizing, to self-identify so communities can be more supportive, [encouraging] people to ask for help when they need it,” she said. “That’s one of the agendas.”

The conversations will bring people together in small groups where they can air their beliefs, identify challenges in the community, and create workable solutions. Dinner is provided.

“It’s really an experience of people sharing and thinking,” Ms. Pierce said.

Ms. Harris said the League of Women Voters’ involvement is based on its “long-held held position on mental health, [which] supports a comprehensive, community-based mental health system for youth and adults. This Community Conversation is not just about the young people. Having our neighbors, Redding and Ridgefield, involved in our needs assessment is indicative of the league’s commitment to understanding the major issues in public policy. Hopefully, the outcome of the conversation will give our communities some actionable solutions to our needs.”

“The goal of the Community Conversations is more than just talking about mental health — it’s to empower community members to be a part of the solution,” said Margaret Watt, executive director of the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board, a sponsor along with the National Alliance for Mental Illness, with funding from the Fairfield County Community Foundation.

Mental illness affects one in four people, a press release said, ranging from anxiety to depression to substance abuse or other disorders.

The conversations, Ms. Pierce said, provide an ongoing way for people to talk about mental health issues. I think we’re going to be trying to keep it in the forefront of people’s conversations.”

Last year, Wiltonians attended a mental health fair in the spring, and a mental health first aid program took place last June. In April, the film Anonymous People, which focuses on drug abuse, will be shown at Wilton High School.

Information: HealthyMindsCT.org or call 203-840-1187.