Teen mental health focus of big assembly for school districts in Hillsdale County

HILLSDALE, Mich. (WLNS) — Mental health is sometimes a hard topic to talk about, especially for teenagers.

So Thursday morning, a mid-Michigan community took steps to break down those barriers and prevent youth suicide.

Around 1,600 high school students from nine local districts gathered in the gymnasium of Hillsdale College for a very important message.

“More people need help than ever before,” said Mike Veny, a mental health speaker who spoke to the students.

Veny travels the country using his own background of struggles with mental illness to help others get a better understanding of how to deal with it.

At the special assembly, he talked with students about how openly discussing mental illness can prevent suicide.

“The shame leads to silence, and the silence leads to sabotage, social injustice, self-destructive behavior, and suicide if we’re not careful,” Veny said. “And sharing your story through connecting with others is how you transform self-destructive behavior.”

A big goal of the event was starting a discussion about mental health that spreads to schools across Hillsdale County.

In recent years, Hillsdale County has seen four youth suicides.

The Hillsdale County Community Foundation organized the event to bring that number down.

“In self-proclaimed surveys, we have found there’s a rise in depression, anxiety to succeed,” said Sharon Bisher, President of the Hillsdale County Community Foundation.

The youth division of the community foundation is starting peer listening teams in all of the county’s high schools.

“Just to have that listening ear to have that conversation, a confidential conversation, so that they can be positive and supporting, but also to identify the kids that really need those addition resources, and having those resources available,” Bisher said.

Carli Harrington is part of the peer listening team at Reading High School.

“Today just really opened up the doors for a lot of those people who are afraid or don’t have the resources. There are people in your school that care. Not just teachers,” Harrington said.

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