Utah Events, Awareness Day Stimulate Conversations to Reduce the Stigma of Mental Health Issues

Labeled Fest, held between Thursday and Saturday in Salt Lake City, gave people a chance to speak out about mental illness during Mental Health Month in May. (Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com)

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SALT LAKE CITY – Many people are trying to normalize conversations about mental health and work towards ending a stigma around metals health that sometimes prevents people from getting the support they need.

May is Mental Health Month and a good time for people to take some time and think about how they can help. Held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Labeled Fest hosted many presentations aimed at normalizing mental health conversations and focusing on positive labels.

“Mental health really is a superpower, you know, and if we can all see that as a positive label instead of a negative label, we can all improve the community around us,” said Brian Higgins.

Higgins is Creative Director of Mental Healthy FiT, which stands for Films, Ideas and Tips, the organization that hosted the event. It’s a nonprofit advocacy group that helps people tell their stories, whether it’s about mental health issues or other challenges.

According to Higgins, the Labeled Fest is held once a year as a place for people who have been involved in the organization’s other events to showcase things they have created or learned in workshops throughout the year.

Higgins said the event is designed to help people look at positive mental health labels like “creative,” “empathetic,” and “connection.” They chose to host the event at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts because of the interconnectedness of many artists and mental health.

He said statistics show that one in five people have a diagnosed mental health problem, but that really everyone deals with mental health problems.

“Mental health affects us all,” Higgins said.

The organization also focuses on how to help the homeless. Higgins suggested that the easiest way to help the homeless is to smile and give people some of your time. He said ignoring homelessness means ignoring people. Higgins was homeless himself for more than 18 months and said homeless people weren’t very different from other people.

“Homelessness can affect anyone,” he said.

At Labeled Fest and its other events, Mental Healthy FiT creates kits for the homeless with small items like socks and toiletries, and cards with resource information.

Higgins said it was incredible to be able to go back to holding the event in person.

“There’s just a real energy and magic in bringing people together around a common purpose,” Higgins said.

Damon Talbot was involved with Labeled Fest and made a “performative slideshow” designed to show that accepting a situation or mental health condition can help improve a person’s outlook, which he says many people found inspirational. He is a member of Alliance House, a Salt Lake City-based program that helps adults with mental illness lead productive lives.

He said that a person with mental illness can be successful even if they are going to have tough days.

Talbot said that many years after he was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, he stayed at home and isolated himself and didn’t speak to people, but after accepting it he was able to get back into the community and meet others who went through the same things. He said community events like Labeled Fest help people realize that mental illness doesn’t have to ruin their lives.

“So many people who have mental illness don’t talk about it, so an event like this, where you can be vulnerable, come out and talk about it, is really powerful,” Talbot said.

He said it’s important to remember that people with mental illness are like everyone else, they want connections and for people to reach out and acknowledge them. He said people don’t necessarily have to walk on eggshells around people with mental health issues, but that taking the time to learn more about their challenges can help.

Children’s Mental Health Day

May is a month for mental health awareness, but more specifically, Saturday is a day to focus on children’s mental health awareness. Gov. Spencer Cox designated the day as Utah’s Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and the day is also recognized nationally.

Rebecca Dutson, President and CEO of Children’s Center Utah, said a big part of the day is reducing the stigma around mental health issues that people, especially young people, face.

“I think we need to spend more time helping people understand that our smallest people, our little kids, have mental health. And they have mental health issues,” Dutson said.

She said many people continue to recognize that infants, toddlers and preschoolers have mental health issues, but that addressing these issues early can transform that child’s life path. She also said that acknowledging the problem can lead to more solutions.

She said that when parents have concerns about their child’s mental health, they should not hesitate to contact a doctor, the Utah Children’s Center or other agencies to get help for their child. She said parents and caregivers know their children best and can tell when something is different, whether the child is withdrawing or acting up.

“If you feel something is wrong, we encourage families to reach out to their pediatricians and start a conversation,” Dutson said.

The Children’s Center Utah helps children between birth and 6 years of age with mental health problems. Dutson said her clinical team uses trauma-informed and evidence-based treatments that are individualized based on the child’s specific experiences and needs.

Dutson said the past two years during the coronavirus pandemic have impacted everyone’s mental health. When children were withdrawn from school, families became isolated and there were many unknowns, it created stress for adults, which can increase their children’s mental health problems.

“I think one of the most important things is that as families and as a society, we should … talk about it more. It’s fundamental to our well-being,” Dutson said.

She said there are times when everyone needs more help and that families should normalize the conversation about mental health.

Concert on suicide prevention

Utah artist Alex Boye was scheduled to headline the state’s first suicide prevention concert on Saturday, but the concert was moved to Friday, May 13 at 7 p.m. at the Maverik Center to make room for possible Utah Grizzlies hockey playoff games .

Tickets for the sold-out concert were free, but were allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Utah has the sixth highest suicide rate in the United States,” Boye said. “Music saved my life and I know it can do the same for others, which is why I do these concerts. Our concept is simple: Use these concerts to build connections, encourage healing and support in our community. This will be an unforgettable night that will nourish your soul and save lives; this is not just a concert… it is an experience.”

Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. It covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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