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Finding The Center
Center for Counseling hosts Mental Health Awareness Day
Drum circle
John Makings with Rhythm Makings drum circle therapy leads a drum circle activity at Tuesday’s Mental Health Awareness Day. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

Jack Kilby Square was alive with color, smiles and activity as The Center for Counseling and Consultation, along with several community partners, took to the courthouse square Tuesday afternoon and evening to promote Mental Health Awareness Day.

It was The Center’s eighth year hosting the event, not including 2020. Holly Bowyer with The Center said the main hope is to bring more awareness to mental health issues, as well as reduce or debunk many of the stigmas that typically surround mental health, an issue which touches many lives.

“One in four people typically either experience a mental illness themselves or have a family member or friend that they know that does,” Bowyer said. 

She said one function of the event is to help provide resources for people experiencing mental health issues who may not otherwise know where to go. 

“A lot of times people don’t even know what the right channel or process is to reach out for help,” she said. “So we’re just providing access to care, and some coping tips and ways to help yourself or others that you see experiencing mental illness.”

Aside from providing connections to many mental health resources, there was no shortage of activities Tuesday to put smiles on the faces of kids of all ages.

The event featured food, as well as an assortment of children’s games and activities, including ring tosses, corn hole and a giant Jenga set. The Center also had a bounce house set up, as well as a rock painting station and an area for kids of all ages to ride trikes on the square. 

But the event was not all fun and games. Several booths operated by The Center and other organizations featured various therapy resources to help people cope with and manage mental illness. 

Some of these opportunities included chair yoga, drum circle therapy, creative therapy, a sidewalk chalk art station and rock painting.

The goal with these, Bowyer said, is to help people learn to not only manage mental health, but to give them an opportunity to thrive with it. Bowyer called it a “tool kit” to help individuals and their loved once address mental health through self-care.

One of these tools available Tuesday was a booth explaining mental health first aid certification classes.

Kristian Pearson, who teaches the techniques, said knowing how to provide first aid to individuals in mental health emergencies is just as important as knowing first aid for physical health emergencies. In the course of a day, he said, the majority of people know or encounter someone struggling with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm, and becoming educated on how to help them is crucial.

“We want to equip everybody we can to help each other,” Pearson said. 

Leonard Kaiser, a therapist with The Center’s Children’s Case Management program, said education and communication are key components to help someone who may be dealing with mental health issues.

One of the most significant stigmas surrounding mental illness, he said, is that there is “something wrong” with someone dealing with a mental illness, when the reality is that issues such as anxiety or depression are far more common than people may think.

“One of the biggest things (people) can do (for someone dealing with mental illness) is just listen, and watch for any kind of changes in behavior,” Kaiser said.

If you are dealing with mental illness yourself, Kaiser stresses it is okay to talk about it, and crucial that you be willing to reach out for help.

Whether it is you, or someone you love who is dealing with mental illness, though, Kaiser said one of the most crucial tools is education. Knowing the signs and symptoms of mental illness, as well as educating yourself on self-care techniques and how to help loved ones is a key component.

Steff Hedenkamp, director of Public Affairs for the #ZeroReasonsWhy teen-led suicide prevention campaign agrees, and also seeks to remove the stigmas surrounding mental health.

One of the most common misnomers, she said, especially among teens, is they are the only ones struggling. Parents also often mistakenly believe sometimes if their child is dealing with mental illness, they are failing as parents. The stigmas, she said, along with common academic, athletic and social performance pressures that come with teenage life, lead teens not to open up about their struggles.

The goal of the campaign is to let teens know it is important to reach out when dealing with mental illness and to help teens have the tools to help friends and loved ones address mental illness.

Other community and area organizations with booths or representatives at the event included the Great Bend Police Department, K-State Research and Extension - Cottonwood District, Great Bend Pilot Club, the Kansas Children’s Service League, Sunflower Early Education, Playfully Created Therapy, Rhythm Makings drum circle therapy, Kansas Guardianship Program, Heart of Kansas Family Health Care, Angels Home Healthcare and Rise Up Central Kansas.