Approximately 60% of Montgomery County kids in grades seven through 12 have considered suicide and 10% have experienced physical abuse. But only 5% of individuals 24 years old and younger have sought out mental health care due to a mental health diagnosis.
This is according to the 2022 annual report from the Montgomery County Prevention Coalition, which outlines how the group is trying to emphasize children’s mental health, prevent substance abuse and grow the coalition.
“One of our biggest points of concern right now is suicide in our youth,” said Colleen Oakes, manager of the coalition. Oakes said suicide has increased particularly with youth. “At Dayton Children’s, it’s the number one reason for admittance currently.”
The coalition discussed a number of campaigns and efforts they have put forward to reduce stigma on mental health concerns and promote resources, including working with local students on a mural. The coalition’s 2022 fiscal year began with 60 members and volunteers coming together to paint, start to finish, a suicide prevention mural in old North Dayton. The mural reads, “With you, the world is complete.”
“It’s actually one of the pathways into the hospital (at Dayton Children’s), but it’s a universal message on the mural,” said Matthew Tepper, president of the coalition. “It reaches to a whole strata of people.”
Tepper recalled the reaction to the mural was immediate with local community members showing appreciation for the artwork even before it was finished.
Other notable projects the coalition worked on include working with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy to mandate warning labels on opioid prescriptions, as well as creating a Summer Challenge and promoting its Digital Detox campaign. They also piloted the Youth Leadership Prevention program that started with three schools and has now expanded to 12.
The coalition received a grant from the Ohio Center for Excellence for the coalition’s “Life is Better With You Here” campaign, which will feature images and messaging designed to reach Black children. Oakes said death by suicide is on the rise for this population.
“Black youth are at a much higher risk for mental health concerns and are dying by suicide in greater numbers when compared to their white peers,” said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of Montgomery County ADAMHS. “This grant will allow us to reach out to Black youth with meaningful messages, so they will know there is hope in help.”
Those efforts also work with the coalition’s barbershop training initiative, which provided training for barbers to learn how to talk about mental health issues and look out for warning signs people may need help, particularly among children.
“When you’re getting your hair cut, you’re there and you talk,” Tepper said.
Tazeen Ahmed, vice president of the coalition, said the suicide prevention committee of the coalition also launched a Soft Barriers project group aimed at reaching out to local retailers and restaurants to share resources. One example was coasters with conversation starters about mental health.
The coalition, which is now in its fifth year, saw growth among its volunteers. This past year, they added 114 new members, bringing their total to 278 coalition members representing 77 organizations. Together, the coalition has implemented 65 prevention strategies, held 40 events, and served over 3,000 service hours.
“The most vital part of the coalition is our volunteers,” said Ahmed.
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