When it comes to mental health, addressing the topic head-on can be difficult. Even admitting that help is needed can present its own set of challenges.
“When you finally decide you need help, it’s the point of no return,” Jeff Harms said. “Then you have to start the process and be patient at the same time. It’s not always easy.”
Harms is president of the New England Ram Club. The truck club is organizing “A Beacon of Hope Auto Show” at the White River Junction VA Medical Center from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. A blessing of the bikes will take place at the start of the event, which will feature trucks, cars and motorcycles of any make or model. Participants are encouraged to register in advance at tinyurl.com/yc63cbuk, or they can show up the day of the event. There is no charge to participate and it is open to both civilians and veterans. In addition to the vehicles, various mental health-based organizations will have booths set up with information about their services and ways to get help.
“If we get the information out there in a fun way for people who wouldn’t normally get it, it’s one step closer to someone getting the help they need,” said Harms, of Cambridge, Vt.
The auto show is one of numerous events in the Upper Valley this month.
While mental health may be a focus, it’s not the only focus. In some ways, the events represent of a shift in the way health care providers address mental health.
“Mental health in general is moving to a wellness model, a whole-health model,” said Dr. Michelle Nerish, suicide prevention coordinator at the VA.
Instead of focusing solely on talk therapy and medication, there are more programs for recreational and art therapy, among other forms of alternative therapy.
The auto show is a way of doing that and so far the response is nothing like VA public affairs officer Katherine Tang has seen before: As of Friday morning, 65 vehicles had been registered.
“The response that we have seen is mind-blowing to me,” she said. “We have resources from across Vermont coming — not just veterans but civilians as well, which is huge.”
While Nerish will give a brief suicide prevention presentation at noon, much of the information will be available for people to access on their own. It can be difficult for veterans to ask for help, because in many ways it goes against what they learned when they served, she said.
“Your entire military training is pretty much the opposite of what we do in mental health,” Nerish said. “Now in mental health we’re asking you to please share everything that’s going on inside and don’t worry about what it looks like on the outside.”
One of the reasons Harms wanted to host an auto show at the VA was to reframe the perception of asking for help — particularly among men.
“My goal is to break that stigma … that it’s OK not to be OK,” he said.
To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
For the second year in a row, West Central Behavioral Health and AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon are joining together for an art exhibit focused on mental health. Called “The Thing With Feathers,” the exhibit is on display through May 21. There will be a reception for the 19 participating artists and a community poetry reading from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday.
The poetry reading is new this year and the 10 participants have been asked to read poems centered on “hope.” Among the area poets reading are Betsy Vickers and former New Hampshire poet laureate Alice Fogel.
“When we look at a piece of art or read a poem, we’re already responding emotionally, and that’s a really fruitful place to start to think about who we are and how we’ve been wounded and how we can be healed,” Fogel said. “It’s also a shared language so that it may make us feel less alone.”
Vickers, who teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Dartmouth, decided to participate in the event to help raise awareness of the mental health needs in the community.
“Poetry can be an outlet, a place to put thoughts and ideas, to externalize rather than keep it inside,” she said. “Any kind of creative endeavor, making things, you make poems and you make art and so forth is a way of expressing deep feeling.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 1-833-710-6477 for 24/7 behavioral health crisis support.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health coaches with We R H.O.P.E., which provides assistance to students in schools, have started to see kids on their radar that haven’t been before.
“The everyday kid that was A-OK is not OK,” said Sean Perry, founder and president of the Chester,Vt.-based nonprofit organization, that serves schools in the Twin States and beyond. “What does that say about the power of being shut off from the power of human connection?”
More youths were dealing with anxiety and depression with suicidal thoughts, which Perry and others tied to a lack of human connection. Remote learning made students feel disconnected from their peers. Those who relied on school to get away from a difficult home life no longer had that outlet.
“A lot of kids … all of a sudden started feeling hopeless and they couldn’t explain why,” Perry said.
Then when students returned to school they had to transition again. Suddenly, they were on stricter schedules than they were with online learning.
“I think that has caused a lot of anxiety for kids,” Perry said. “You’re seeing a lot more outbursts and frustration, anger and behaviors which are related to the anxiety that they’re feeling for being back in the building.”
As a way to highlight the increase in the work they’re doing with children, We R H.O.P.E. is hosting a youth mental health gala titled “Changing the Mental Health Culture” at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm. The event features five speakers who will discuss mental health topics, musical performances and an auction. Tickets cost $75. Those who cannot attend in person can purchase a $5 ticket to stream via Zoom. For more information, visit werhope.org.
Liz Sauchelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3221.