Close to home: Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch speaks about how mental health awareness is an issue she is passionate about during Friday’s mental health roundtable discussion Friday at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. Staff photo by Austen Leake
Close to home: Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch speaks about how mental health awareness is an issue she is passionate about during Friday’s mental health roundtable discussion Friday at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. Staff photo by Austen Leake
A roundtable discussion Friday among educators, mental health professionals and elected officials featured heartbreaking stories of suicide, mental health issues, addiction and how to remove the stigma of asking for help when situations seem overwhelming.

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch knows the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects for those struggling with mental health challenges or addictions.

“What keeps me up at night,” Crouch said, “is the human cost of this pandemic.”

That cost will grow exponentially in the future, she said, referring to tragedies that will occur if vulnerable people requiring help do not receive the services they need.

Sharing her personal story, Crouch told the group gathered at Terre Haute South Vigo High School that her mother suffered from depression, her sister committed suicide, and her brother is a recovering alcoholic who relapsed under the stress of COVID-19.

“One in five Hoosiers suffer from mental health challenges or fight addiction,” Crouch said.

She supported Friday's discussion as a start to implementing programs and training that will help identify students who are at risk of self-harm.

A current effort to make young people aware of suicide prevention and human trafficking resources could come through hotline phone numbers added to student ID cards.

Indiana Senate Bill 19, co-authored by Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, is now making its way through the legislature with a focus on reaching middle and high school students.

“I think the earlier we can start, the better,” Ford said referring to awareness among youth. “Stigma may be one of the priorities that we need to attack on this.”

When he was researching how to share resources with school-age children, he found that few elementary schools issue ID cards to students. That's why the legislation starts with middle school, he said. Adding the phone numbers to the back of the ID cards could give young people another avenue of getting assistance.

“We think it's a nominal cost for the school corporations because they will be printing the ID anyway,” Ford said, noting the legislation comes with no funding at this time.

He is hopeful that additions can be made to the bill to encourage school corporations to also use social media, text messages and emails to send reminders to students about available resources.

Using social media to reach more young people is a challenge raised by Sullivan resident Mike Frey, who shared his family's story of coping with suicide.

Frey's 18-year-old son, Cade, committed suicide Nov. 24, shocking the family as they saw no warning signs he would harm himself.

Frey admitted he was not aware of mental health issues and suicide prevention before his son died, but he is now dedicated to eliminating the stigma of seeking help.

The issues are more prevalent than many people realize, said Roopam Harshawat of the Harsha Behavioral Center, a facility that treats people of all ages with mental and behavioral health issues, as well as addictions. It is important that communities take steps to promote awareness, prevention and recovery, she said, voicing her support of Ford's legislation.

“What I liked hearing today is the different programs and the different pieces from people trying to do something different," said Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett. "The old model doesn't really work."

“The spirit and emotional well-being of your community is what matters,” said Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb.

Being a father of five and mayor of a small city, Lamb said all public safety officials, teachers and small city officials need to become counselors on the scene to take care of their communities.
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