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And don't forget, Thurs. evening, 6:30 at NHS...

On My Soapbox: The Behavioral Health Symposium

It’s still March, and I promised my family members that I would stop complaining about the weather here. The sun is shining, so who could complain anyway? Instead, I’m taking this space to promote an important and helpful event that’s happening this week: The Nantucket Behavioral Health Symposium, Navigating Through Depression & Substance Abuse (that’s a mouthful). In full disclosure, I must say that I am a community representative on the Nantucket Behavioral Health Task Force, which is presenting this two-part event, and really, it is an honor to be involved.

Over the past decade, and especially the latter half, mental health and opioid addiction have become issues on Nantucket, and across the nation, which are impossible to ignore. Suicide and overdoses have wreaked havoc for too many members of our community. Loved ones of islanders who suffer from depression, addiction, alcoholism, and other mental illnesses are driven to distraction trying to help, or find help, for their friends and family members, as well as themselves. The task force, a collaborative of local practitioners, Family & Children’s Services, representatives of Cottage Hospital, the police, the schools, ASAP, Access Nantucket, and more, has been working to address this devastating problem, and this week’s symposium’s aim is to educate islanders, listen to input, and answer questions so many of us have on what must be done. It’s a discussion that needs to happen.

“The upcoming Navigating Through Depression and Substance Abuse behavioral health symposium, which is open to the public, represents one of the first of many outreach efforts that will be made by the Nantucket Behavioral Health Task Force to stem the tide of the current behavioral health situation on the island,” said Nantucket Behavioral Health Task Force committee member Bryan Frascati, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and a licensed school counselor (LSC). “The hope is that well-attended, informational events such as this will serve to shed light on the challenges we face here on Nantucket, as well as the contributions that can be made by all towards seeing a brighter future for the island’s behavioral health outlook. Education and awareness will be one of our most effective weapons in this fight.”

This Thursday afternoon, stand-up comic and mental health activist Kevin Breel will speak to an assembly of Nantucket High School students, followed by a Q&A. Breel’s approach combines humor and honesty to talk about subjects that affect many, but are rarely discussed. Tessandra Pearson, executive director of Family & Children’s Services, and Kevin Marshall, who works in suicide prevention, will be on hand as well to talk to students. But fear not, everyone else will get a chance to hear Breel speak later that evening, at 6:30 in the NHS auditorium, when he presents “Hope, Health, Community, & Questions” for the rest of us. And best of all, it’s free.

On Saturday, at the Nantucket Hotel, the symposium welcomes Dr. Amy Yule, board certified in Adult Psychiatry, Child Psychiatry, and Addiction Psychiatry, a staff child and adolescent psychiatrist in the Addiction Recovery Management Service at Massachusetts General Hospital, also involved in clinical research. She is an Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. At this all-day event, with a complimentary lunch provided by the Nantucket Hotel, Dr. Yule will speak in the morning session on “Depression in the Context of Substance Abuse,” with Q&A, and a follow up in the afternoon session, “Substance Abuse Management: Assessment, Treatment Options, Community and Family Involvement and Support,” again with Q&A.

The final part of the presentation, at 2 p.m., will be a Community Panel Discussion, moderated by Nantucket Cottage Hospital Head Nurse Bonnie Kester: “Recovery Management, Communication, Self – Help and Wrap Around Services, Prevention for Mental Illness and Substance Abuse,” with audience participation. The panel will include: Tess Pearson (FCSN); Kevin Marshall (Suicide Prevention); Darcie Evans (LICSW) Aileen Womack (Nurse, Suboxone Program Facilitator); Richard Ross (LICSW); Joan Galon King (ACCESS Nantucket; Harm Reduction Program); Dr. Margot Hartman (C.E.O. NCH); and Peter Shea (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

Registration for Saturday’s presentation is at 9 a.m., and again, this event is free, and open to the public. It’s an incredible opportunity to have access to Dr. Yule, an expert at the top of her field, in order to learn the latest in research, assessment and treatment, ask questions, and raise concerns with local practitioners and agencies. In addition, community resources and providers will have tables set up with literature and representatives, who can answer questions as well, concerning mental health, substance abuse, and general wellness.

To be sure, this isn’t an easy topic, but it isn’t one that we, as islanders, can hide from, either. There’s much to be done, gaps to be filled, outreach to be extended, and resources to tap. Knowledge is power, and if we band together to work in this direction, through efforts like this symposium, hopefully we can effect real change that is desperately needed, here, and beyond our shores. Please consider attending one or both of these events, and spread the word to anyone you feel might benefit. I know there are many of us who have an interest in learning what can be done about these challenging issues.