Fishers works to break down mental health stigmas

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FISHERS, Ind. - Fishers city leaders launched a new campaign this week aimed to break down the stigmas associated with mental health.

"There are people in our community today living in quiet despair, suffering from the issues of mental health," Mayor Scott Fadness, R-Fishers, said. "If we don't do something to bring down the stigma and to provide resources to them, my fear is one day they're going to act out in such a random and violent way that they are either going to do harm to themselves or to someone else."

The program is part the Fishers Mental Health Task Force. Mayor Fadness started the task force after he saw how many calls Fishers police dealt with involving severe mental health scenarios.

"There is a moral imperative for our community along with other communities to really look at this issue from a holistic perspective, hit it head on and deal with it," Fadness said.

One of the task force's first programs is a #StigmaFreeFishers campaign. The group is asking residents to take a pledge to learn more about mental health as well as learn to see the person and not the illness.

"It's getting our community to reach out to those living in quiet despair and to say,'it's OK if you're suffering from issues of mental health, there are resources and we want you to have the courage to come and talk about it,'" Fadness said. 

The group also made a Tumblr page for people in the community to share their challenges dealing with mental illness.

The Hamilton Southeastern School District is part of the mental health task force and has also taken a proactive approach to mental health.

"I think we are closer to getting kids the help they truly need," Hamilton Southeaster School Guidance Counselor Bill Zoeller said.

The district recently hired a suicide prevention coordinator and has had all of its teachers, counselors trained to recognize the symptoms of mental illness.
Many of the district's resources for mental health come from the Peyton Riekhof Foundation, started in honor of a HSE student that took her own life in 2013.

"Suicide is a word that is hard to say for many people," Mike Riekhof, Peyton Riekhof's father, said. "My new normal, if you can call it that, is try to protect youth from harming themselves or harming others."

Riekhof runs a softball tournament each year in honor of his daughter and the proceeds go to fund mental health speakers in Fishers' schools. He is also part of the mental health task force and believes the pledge is great step in the right direction.

"If we can get rid of some of the stigma,  I believe we are going to save some lives and protect our youth and protect any age for that matter from having to do what my daughter felt like she had to do," Riekhof said.

The pledge will coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month, which is in May.

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