Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Trying to Talk About Mental Health

In his work as a rock-climbing instructor, Philippe Fontilea saw a lot of kids with issues they were too afraid to acknowledge. Finally, last summer, he decided. "Change was going to happen," he said. "Everything that was happening didn't work, and this works."

And so was born Lets: Let's Erase The Stigma, a non-profit dedicated to erasing the stigma of mental illness by funding and developing educational programs, mentoring opportunities and research among high school and college-aged kids.

"We've all experienced it in some way," Philippe explains on his website, "A grandmother with Alzheimer's. A cousin with depression. A younger brother with Autism. Or even you. We see it, but many of us don't know how or even want to help. The way mental illness has been portrayed in the media, arts, and literature (think: Psycho, Silence of the Lambs), there is no question as to why people fear or deny their given situation. The social stigma against mental illness has become so prevalent that even those suffering from it deny their condition or refuse treatment."

I met Philippe in his booth at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Annual Meeting. Posing as a psychiatrist (not really, just as a member of the media), I met so many people trying, like Philippe, to institute preventative measures to ensure the overall health of kids in our communities, including the crucial area of health that often gets overlooked.

"Rather than wait until it's a crisis, let's talk about it," Philippe suggested. He is talking about it and establishing clubs in his hometown of L.A. in addition to New York and Washington, D.C. this year. And that's why I gave him a gold star.

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