When it comes to mental health, tackling the subject head-on can be difficult. Even admitting that help is needed can present its own set of challenges.
“When you finally decide you need help, that’s the point of no return,” said Jeff Harms. “Then you have to start the process and be patient at the same time. Its not always easy.”
Harms is president of the New England Ram Club. The trucking club is hosting “A Beacon of Hope Auto Show” at the White River Junction VA Medical Center from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. A Blessing of the Bikes will take place at the start of the event, which will feature trucks, cars and motorcycles of any make or model. Attendees are encouraged to pre-register at tinyurl.com/yc63cbuk, or they can show up on the day of the event. Participation is free and open to civilians and veterans. In addition to the vehicles, various mental health-focused organizations will have kiosks set up with information about their services and how to get help.
“If we get the information out in a fun way for people who wouldn’t normally get it, that’s one step closer to getting someone the help they need,” Harms, from Cambridge, said in the Vermont.
The auto show is one of the many events in the Upper Valley this month.
Although mental health can be a goal, it is not the only goal. In some ways, the events represent a shift in how health care providers approach mental health.
“Mental health in general is moving towards a wellness model, a holistic health model,” said Dr. Michelle Nerish, VA suicide prevention coordinator.
Instead of just focusing on talk and medication therapy, there are more recreational therapy and art therapy programs, among other forms of alternative therapy.
The auto show is one way to do that and so far the answer has nothing to do with what VA public affairs officer Katherine Tang has seen before: As of Friday morning, 65 vehicles had been registered.
“The response we’ve seen is mind-blowing to me,” she said. “We have resources from all over Vermont coming in – not just veterans but also civilians, which is huge.”
While Nerish will give a brief presentation on suicide prevention at noon, much of the information will be available for people to access for themselves. It can be difficult for veterans to ask for help because in many ways it goes against what they learned when they served, she said.
“All of your military training is pretty much the opposite of what we do in mental health,” Nerish said. “Now in mental health, we ask that you please share whatever is going on on the inside and not worry about what it looks like on the outside.”
One of the reasons Harms wanted to host a car show at the VA was to reframe the perception of asking for help, especially among men.
“My goal is to break that stigma…that it’s okay not to be okay,” he said.
To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
For the second year in a row, West Central Behavioral Health and AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon are coming together for an art exhibition focusing on mental health. Entitled “The Thing With Feathers”, the exhibition is on view until May 21. There will be a reception for the 19 participating artists and a community poetry reading from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Poetry reading is new this year and the 10 participants were invited to read poems centered on “hope”. Local poets reading include Betsy Vickers and former New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice Fogel.
“When we look at a piece of art or read a poem, we are already reacting emotionally, and it’s a really fruitful place to start thinking about who we are and how we’ve been hurt and how we can be healed,” says Fogel. “It’s also a shared language so that we feel less alone.”
Vickers, who teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Dartmouth, decided to participate in the event to help raise awareness in the community about mental health needs.
“Poetry can be an outlet, a place to put thoughts and ideas, to externalize them rather than keep them inside,” she said. “Any kind of creative effort, doing things, you do poems and you do art and so on is a way to express a deep feeling.”
If you or someone you know is going through a mental health crisis, call or text 1-833-710-6477 for 24/7 behavioral health crisis support.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health coaches at We R HOPE, which provides assistance to students in schools, began to see children on their radar who had never been there before.
“The everyday kid who was A-OK isn’t OK,” said Sean Perry, founder and president of the Chester, Vermont-based nonprofit that serves schools across the states. twins and beyond. “What does this say about the power of being cut off from the power of human connection?”
More young people suffered from anxiety and depression with suicidal thoughts, which Perry and others linked to a lack of human connection. Distance learning has made students feel disconnected from their peers. Those who relied on school to get away from a difficult home life no longer had that outlet.
“A lot of kids…all of a sudden started feeling hopeless and they couldn’t explain why,” Perry said.
Then, when the students returned to school, they had to make the transition again. Suddenly, they had stricter schedules than they were with online learning.
“I think it caused a lot of anxiety among the kids,” Perry said. “You see a lot more outbursts and frustration, anger and anxiety-related behaviors than they feel being back in the building.”
To highlight the increased work they are doing with children, We R HOPE is hosting a youth mental health gala titled “Changing the Culture of Mental Health” at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 at the Quechee Inn in Ferme des Swamp. The event features five speakers who will discuss mental health topics, musical performances and an auction. Tickets are $75. Those unable to attend in person can purchase a $5 ticket to stream via Zoom. For more information, visit wehope.org.
Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.