Alpena Public Schools recently hosted a mental health awareness panel discussion in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. The event had a range of knowledgeable community partners who participated, including representatives of The Sunset Project, who paid tribute to a family member who died by suicide in 2016. Alpena Public Schools Superintendent Dave Rabideau moderated the panel, which featured members from organizations such as the Alpena Health Center, Alpena Community College, Catholic Welfare Services, and Prevention Partners.
Panelists discussed various challenges faced during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, particularly how they affect young people. Panel member Mary Schalk pointed out that, although young people frequently struggle with emotions and feelings, they are now also feeling increasingly hopeless and disempowered. She added that students need human interaction and connection, as well as support from parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives.
The discussion also highlighted the impact of social media on young people and addressed bullying and negativity. Some students in the audience asked questions about the potential for social media to provide opportunities for genuine connection with like-minded peers. One panelist suggested that young people need to be given an opportunity to participate in groups and volunteer activities that promote communication skills.
The panel discussion was live-streamed and can still be viewed on the Alpena Public Schools website. Speakers from The Sunset Project delivered a presentation on “Ending the Silence” in partnership with the National Mental Illness Alliance. This presentation will be made available on the district’s website and is designed to provide support to young people in dealing with mental health issues. The event concluded with the message that, although life can be hard, it is worth living, and people should not be silent about mental health issues. Anyone needing help can seek assistance from the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling 988 or visiting 988lifeline.org.