MONTGOMERY COUNTY - If you're having a tough time emotionally during the pandemic you're not alone. According to the CDC an elevated number of Americans are struggling with mental health and that includes an increase of people experiencing suicidal thoughts. What's being done locally to help?
The Community Help Expo was put together to do just that “help” those who may feel all hope is lost. When you walk into the event you may think you've entered an art gallery instead of a wellness expo. "The message of this expo is navigating through behavioral health and suicide in a COVID world,” explains Precinct 1 Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack.
So where does the artwork fit in? "Art and creativity was a big part of my salvation story. I was an alcoholic for about 10 years and when I was delivered from alcoholism I didn't know what to do with my time and so I turned to photography. I had identified as a lost, broken, hopeless alcoholic. I had tried programs. I tried willpower. None of it worked and one night when I asked Jesus, I just hit my knees and said Jesus I can't stop drinking. I know I'm an alcoholic. I believe you can help and he said you're not an alcoholic you're an artist. That changed everything for me,” explains Justin Ulmer who is on the board of the Behavioral Health And Suicide Prevention Task Force created by Judge Mack. Mack is also the County Coroner. "We have an epidemic in our county, in our state, in our nation when it comes to suicide. It's very disturbing but the second leading cause of death in the age groups of 10 to 35 is death by suicide,” says Judge Mack.
So his Task Force is hosting the Help Expo with guest speaker Kevin Hines. "He's one of two people that tried to die by suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived,” says Mack.
The expo is offering a lifeline to those who need it. "We know there's a need and we know we have resources. With the Task Force we're trying to be a bridge to connect those,” Mack explains.
"So people can see wow there's a church right down the street that can help me. There's a clinic that accepts this kind of insurance that's not far from me,” Ulmer says.
"We want to increase the safety net for folks that are in crisis,” adds Judge Mack.
The art at the event represents healing and hope. "This is by Celeste Rickert. It's Robin Williams,” says Ulmer. Another drawing by Andy Szabo depicts how emotionally important it is to disconnect from devices and engage in real life. A couple of Ulmer's photographs are also on display.
Ulmer is now a Youth Pastor and has been an artist for 15 years. It was art, he says God sent to save his life. "To take the destructive tendencies that often accompany depression, fear, shame and just kind of flip a switch and say instead of doing something destructive I'm going to do something creative".
Ulmer is also reminding parents to check often on your child's mental health. "Ask your kids regularly are you ok? How are you doing? Be vulnerable with your young person in-kind. Demonstrate and model the kind of authenticity and vulnerability you want to see in your kids by sharing 'yeah I'm having a tough time lately too'. It's going to inspire the other individual to see this is a safe place to open up and share. So my advice to parents, tell your kids how you're doing if you want to know how they're doing”.
Most of the artwork was also printed onto small cards with the picture on the front and a scripture on the back and given away to attendees. See the art up close on the free app called Seven Apples. There you can view the art and reach out to the artists.
If you missed the event visit communityhelp.org for suicide and mental health help or reach out to 1-800-273-TALK, the National Suicide Prevention Helpline.