May is Mental Health Month

The Blair County “May is Mental Health Month” Committee will be presenting “Bullying/Peer Abuse: Start the Healing,” a free program addressing bullying issues, including how to heal and move forward.

The program will be held May 8 at the Ramada, Altoona. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and for an hour attendees will be able to visit representatives from different agencies. They’ll be to learn what help and services are available locally on bullying and other mental health issues.

Nationally, May is designated as Mental Health Month to decrease the stigma society attaches to mental illnesses. Locally for 17 years, a group of local mental health service organizations have presented programs designed to increase awareness, knowledge and understanding of mental health-related subjects.

This year, May is Mental Health Month’s featured speaker is Elizabeth Bennett, M.Ed., who is a national pioneer in advocacy to stop bullying among children and adults. She is an author, consultant and survivor of childhood bullying.

Bennett, of Spartanburg, S.C., explains why understanding the roles of victim, bully and bystander in bullying situations is crucial to ending the abuse cycle. She promotes the term “peer abuse” in place of “bullying” because peer abuse leaves invisible scars on victims.

As a survivor, her message is one of hope, because help and healing are possible through better understanding. Her message will appeal to parents, teachers, school administrators, middle and high school students, according to May is Mental Health Month Committee chairman Mark Frederick.

“Bullying continues to escalate not only nationally, but locally as well,” he said.

“Whether your child is a victim, a bully, or witnesses it happening to a classmate, all are impacted. Bullying is a huge distraction from learning and that is the reason our children are in school. Bullying today occurs in many more settings and has far-reaching consequences. Teens have committed suicide after bullying-related videos of them were placed on the internet. It is no longer simply a bully taking the victim’s lunch money. Today, bullying is taking lives.”

Bennett’s message identifies the signs of when a child may be being bullied. Too often, a victim fails to seek help out of shame and fear of retaliation, Bennett said.

“There is a difference between ‘ratting someone out’ and reporting what should be considered a crime. Educating our children and taking proper action as adults will save lives,” she said. “If you are being abused by your peers or you see it occurring, tell someone. Peer abuse needs to be handled by caring, compassionate and educated adults. If adults don’t act, we allow it to continue and grow worse.”

For information on professional Continuing Education Credits, call 814-889-2706.

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