Task force aims to build awareness of mental health, available resources
After a year in which hope seemed in short supply, a community task force aims to boost public awareness about mental health resources available for students and families.
Park Cities HOPE plans to hang information on the doors of homes and businesses during the spring semester.
“We realize we are addressing a concerning epidemic across our nation,” said Lydia Walden, HPISD director of academics and support services. “There is so much work to do in this area. Most importantly, we want our families to know we care and that there are resources available to assist through emotionally challenging times.”
Park Cities HOPE (PC HOPE) task force formed after the 2014 suicides of two students.
A family member, Highland Park ISD staff, students, the HPHS Student Council, community members, and members of the HPISD counseling department shared a desire to address the topic of mental health.
The district’s school health advisory committee (SHAC) also sought to address student and staff well-being.
The resulting task force has about 50 members, including law enforcement, physicians, area clergy, mental health professionals, counselors, parents, and HPISD staff.
It meets two to three times a year to address mental health and well-being and discuss opportunities to increase awareness and improve the quality of life.
Walden noted how the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated mental health challenges.
“Our kids are stressed to the max with their academics and extracurriculars, and I think now that we’re living in the pandemic, it’s really grown,” she said. “It’s just an added layer of stress on our kids and our families in general.”
The Loncar family of Highland Park created the Grace Loncar Foundation after the death of 16-year-old Grace in 2016. Her father, Brian, died soon after.
The foundation brought to the attention of HPISD the Hope Squad student-to-student support concept and provided about $10,000 for counselor training, the Dallas Morning News reported last year.
The work of these groups comes amid a troubling trend of rising suicides in Texas and nationwide.
“The latest CDC data show that the U.S. life expectancy has declined over the past few years. Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a 2018 news release.
Walden said Park Cities HOPE intends to make a difference.
“We do not want to see our children give up,” she said. “We want them to know they have resources available to help them and to always have hope, no matter what.”
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