‘Be That Person’ program encourages conversations on mental health, substance abuse

‘Be That Person’ program encourages conversations on mental health, substance abuse

CUMBERLAND – A unique mental health and substance abuse series coming to the Cumberland Public Library encourages members of the community to “Be That Person” who notices when someone is struggling and connects them to resources for help.

The goals of the series are to help reduce the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse, improve early identification of behavioral health issues, educate people about available resources, improve connection to treatment and ultimately reduce deaths to suicide and overdose.

The idea for the community forum series came from McCourt Middle School Principal Jason Masterson, who noted a need to join the national conversation on mental illness and substance use by focusing attention on those issues locally.

“It seemed like there was no one talking about it locally,” he said. “No one seemed to know how to handle these issues or where to go for help. This program, which came out of that discussion, encourages people and resources to come together so that people in need feel supported by people they know.”

The forums will be facilitated by the Community Care Alliance, a Woonsocket-based nonprofit aiming to empower people challenged by economic insecurity, mental illness and addiction, housing issues and other trauma-related concerns.

Monthly series topics are as follows, with each forum beginning at 6:30 p.m. and running the fourth Wednesday of the month from January to May, excluding April. The workshops will address mental illness, substance abuse and trauma, as well as how to recognize when help is needed and how to access resources. There will also be special focus on developing strategies for talking to people about these uncomfortable topics.

Michelle Taylor, of the Community Care Alliance, said the theme of “Be That Person” is featured in all of the forums, teaching participants how to intervene in each of the areas.

Taylor said the goal is to encourage people to “initiate conversations and listen to others in a nonjudgmental way. People feel anxious about asking about suicidal thoughts, because if they ask it might cause it. The opposite is true. When you ask, it makes the person feel valued and opens the door for a meaningful conversation.”

She hopes people who attend the workshops take away the ability to recognize warning signs and commit to some kind of plan to help someone who needs it. She’s also hoping that continued dialogue about mental health and substance use will help eliminate the stigma around the issues, giving people the opportunity to have these conversations.

“When we’re ashamed about mental health, we don’t speak up … we hide it. A lot of times that hiding is what perpetuates the problem,” Taylor said. “This program is about bringing it out in the open.”