The Severna Park community came together on April 2 to continue the conversation about the mental health of our children and families. More than 100 people joined Severna Park High School faculty and staff, along with county mental health professionals, to hear “What If We Put Mental Health First: Now What?” presented by Anna Mueller, Ph.D., assistant professor in comparative human development and sociology at the University of Chicago. The event was hosted by Students Taking Active Responsibility (STAR).
During her hour-long presentation, Mueller spoke about ways to better communicate with youth and within families, and the cultural norms that challenge the paradigm shift of mental health stigma. She spoke about shame and how dangerous it is for our kids in our collective drive for maximum achievement and involvement.
“Shame happens for children when we disappoint someone else. It becomes more dangerous when the expectations we put on our kids are so narrow that there is no room for mistakes,” said Ann Brennan, president and CEO at Burgers & Bands for Suicide Prevention. “This conversation made me stop and wonder how much shame I have put on my kids over the years. It’s not an easy thing to think about, but if it helps create a better environment not just for my kids but for my neighbors, it’s worth examining.”
One parent challenged society to offer a safe environment for children to share their fears and feelings before those concerns become stress and depression, or even suicidal thoughts.
“Why do we have to have this conversation after yet another suicide in our community?” she asked. “Until a mental health diagnosis is treated with the same kindness and support as a cancer diagnosis, both from the community and our medical professionals, asking our children to share what’s going on will continue to be counter-cultural and very difficult.”
Mueller also said that the solution to mental health lies not with researchers but with the kids. "We cannot fix this without having open and honest conversations with our kids at the table."