Local organization launches unique approach to mental health education

(Canton, Ohio)Middle school students in Stark County have an innovative new way to learn about their mental health in a format they are likely to enjoy: an age-appropriate comic book. 

Let’s Talk About It, A Graphic Guide To Mental Health is a 24-page comic that is currently being distributed to every middle school student in the county through each middle school building. This publication is the result of a partnership between Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery (StarkMHAR) and The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. It was made possible through System of Care grant funding and StarkMHAR staff’s desire to reach this important age group with messaging that resonates.

Let’s Talk About It, A Graphic Guide To Mental Health is designed to destigmatize the conversation around mental health, addressing everything from stress to anxiety to addiction. The book also looks at how the brain affects behavior, shares ways to stay mentally healthy, and directs readers toward resources for those who need help.

“Research tells us that when young people themselves gain an interest in solutions to problems that affect them and their peers, that is when you start to see meaningful change,” said John Aller, PCC, LICDC, executive director of StarkMHAR. “It’s our intention and our hope that the comic serves as a conversation starter among these middle school students – with each other, between them and their parents, or any other important role models.”

Although this project was underway prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for creative ways to interact with young people about their mental health is paramount at this time. In general, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed with anxiety, and 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed with depression. Furthermore, Stark County, Ohio experienced a youth suicide cluster in 2017-2018; 13 young people lost their lives to suicide.

The grant that supported this project was recently renewed for an additional four years, which will allow for an extension of current resources and see additional services start. Among the first efforts are Mobile Response Teams being integrated in Stark County Job & Family Services and Stark County Family Court, along with clinical case manager and parent peer support at the Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Clinical staff support for behavioral health treatments will also be integrated into at least two local pediatric practices, offering both physical and behavioral health care in one location. Furthermore, all System of Care partners contributes content and support to StarkHelpCentral.com, which is a new website that aims to bring all resources in the county together in a digital, easy-to-search format.

Anyone can order additional copies and/or download an electronic copy of the publication at Let’s Talk About It: A Graphic Guide to Mental Health – The Center for Cartoon Studies The Center for Cartoon Studies

Parents interested in the school-based mental health services available to their children can learn more at School-Based Mental Health Services – Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery (starkmhar.org)

For more information about local work to address youth suicide visit Suicide Response – Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery (starkmhar.org)

For more information about lead cartoonist’s Cara Bean’s work visit carabeancomics.com

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