Near the end of “The Wizard of Oz,” Glinda the Good Witch informs Dorothy that she always possessed the power to return home. Eighty-three years after the beloved children’s classic hit the screen, that little bit of dialogue is still generating encouraging memes and anecdotes.
Why? Because people want the power to help shape their own stories and make a difference in the world around them. In an era of nonstop news, much of it bad, it is all too easy to feel powerless, especially when confronting a situation such as our nation’s escalating mental health crisis. That is unfortunate, because mental illness is something that touches all of us — and also because it is something we have the power to improve.
Here in Northeast Florida, we have created the Talkable Communities (TC) initiative to exercise that power. Founded by five local behavioral health CEOs, TC seeks to promote social connectedness, reduce or eliminate the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, and teach our families, friends and neighbors how to recognize the signs of mental illness and respond appropriately.
Now preparing to enter its third year, the initiative helps to stem the tide of anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide in our region by providing information and resources to community members and encouraging them to share. With grant support from Florida Blue Foundation, TC seeks to make mental health an ongoing topic of conversation among Northeast Florida residents of every age, ethnicity and background, and to equip them with information they can use to help others in need of support or intervention.
Talkable Communities provides three free mental health trainings.
“Youth Mental Health First Aid” teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health issues and substance use among children and adolescents ages 6-18.
“It's Time to Talk About It!” teaches family members, caregivers and others who interact with young people how to recognize the risk factors and warning signs of youth suicide.
Finally, “Question. Persuade. Refer.” trains people in “QPR” — how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and then question, persuade and refer someone to help.
The TC trainings are available online and in person, the time commitment is minimal and the process is all about empowering individuals to nurture and serve their communities.
TC was founded on a vision of communities where people know about mental health and substance abuse disorders, freely talk about their own mental health and encourage others to do so, and where the skills to respond to mental health emergencies such as substance use and suicidal thoughts are commonplace.
To paraphrase Glinda, you have the power to help realize that vision right now. By devoting a day or less of your time to a mental health training, you can make a positive difference for the people around you. And by sharing what you learn, you can help shape the story of Northeast Florida into one in which elevated wellness, decreased suicide and ongoing community engagement result in a much happier ending for us all.
To learn more, go to TalkableCommunities.org
Patti Greenough, M.Ed., C.P.P., has more than 40 years’ experience in the field of mental health prevention and treatment. She is CEO of EPIC Behavioral Healthcare in Flagler and St. Johns Counties and a founder of the Talkable Communities initiative.