On February 28, C3EN and West Side United hosted a mental health town hall at Lawndale Christian Health Center, with a lecture called “Mental Health First-Aid Matters” by LaDawne Jenkins, MSRA, of Alive Faith Network.

During her lecture, Jenkins described mental health as a state of well-being in which individuals can cope with stress, realize their own potential, and contribute to their communities. In contrast, mental illness is a disorder that affects thinking, emotions, and behavior, disrupting an individual’s ability to work, accomplish daily activities, and engage in rewarding relationships. The incidence of mental illness is very common. “One in five American adults are diagnosed with a mental disorder every single year,” she said, “and almost half of all American adults will experience a mental health challenge over the course of their lifetimes.”

In addition to discussing risk factors for mental illness, Jenkins shared a new resource by the Illinois Mental Health Collaborative for Access and Choice, the Warm Line, which offers peer support over the telephone, the Crisis Text Line, which offers 24-hour support by text message, the Crisis and Referral Entry Services (CARES) line, which offers mental health advice for guardians of youth in crisis, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which connects callers to trained crisis workers 24 hours a day.

In the conversation that followed, community leaders suggested that efforts should be made to ensure the inclusion of youth in town halls and research. “We need to find ways of including young people in research if we are going to help them get healthier,” said one community member. Ayesha Jaco, CSAC member and executive director of West Side United, added, “If we want to work with young people, we have to meet them where they are and where they go.”

Community members suggested that health care could be more effective if providers and researchers went into the community. “Meetings like this should happen where kids and parents are–people need to feel safe to open up,” said one person. “I would like to have a block club party that includes health assessments and opportunities for neighbors to know and support each other,” suggested another. “Does this mean that young people may need to get care outside of a traditional health care system?” wondered Doriane Miller, co-director of C3EN’s Community Engagement Core.

Many factors impact health and wellness, and community members agreed that researchers must take time to be present in the communities they are researching, build trust, and observe people in the environments in which they live. “Why aren’t kids reading at their grade level? Do they have enough food to eat?” said one community member who identified as a teacher.

Perhaps we need to reframe the question, “What’s wrong with you?” as “What happened to you?” suggested Miller.

On April 23, 6-7:30CT, join C3EN and Phalanx Family Services on Zoom for a virtual violence prevention town hall. Pilot Awardee Chuka Emezue, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Women, Children, and Family Nursing at Rush University College of Nursing will be giving the presentation, “Trauma- and Equity-Focused Support for Boys and Men on Both Sides of the Gun.” Register HERE.