May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Two years ago, Pulaski County Schools teamed with local mental health providers and other interested agencies in order to host the first Mental Health Matters, a day of education and fun designed to signify the importance of mental health awareness, reducing stigma and encouraging people to seek treatment.

"We wanted to give people options of what was available here," Lori Price, Pulaski County Schools Student and Family Support Services Coordinator, said. "It was very, very well received…had good participation. So the mental health agencies and the school [district] wanted to try and do it again this year."

The 2019 Mental Health Matters event is scheduled for this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Pulaski Judicial Center Plaza (or Pulaski County High School gym in the event of rain).

The event will kick off with local officials signing a proclamation declaring May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Organizers have then planned three primary venues for the public to take in: speakers and performers, agency and provider booths, and fair-type activities.

Price continued that the statistics for mental illness can be daunting. Of youth between ages 13 and 18, 22.2 percent have or will have a mental illness.

"If you think about a classroom size, that's four children in a class of 20," Price said, "that meet the diagnosable criteria of a mental illness at any given time."

According to Price, half of all sufferers report that their issues began by age 14. The percentage climbs to 75 percent when reporting they began by 24.

"For school-aged youth, it's really an important time to link kids to treatment so that it doesn't become a lifelong condition," Price said.

There is also an average lag of 10 years for people from the point where they first notice a problem to the time they actually decide to seek help. At any given time, some 51 percent are suffering without treatment, Price added. That's why Mental Health Matters is so important for public awareness.

"That's the point: people suffer from mental illness, and there is help out there," Price said. "The purpose of Mental Health Matters in Pulaski County is to encourage people not to be ashamed to admit that they may be suffering and be willing seek out treatment. Treatment works; they do not have to suffer."

As with the first event in 2017, Saturday's program will feature a slate of people sharing how mental illness, suicide or addiction has impacted their lives and how they found ways to deal with those issues.

"The speakers were just tremendous…motivating and just very touching," Price said of the first Mental Health Matters.

Those attending the event can also learn about the help available from more than 20 booths that will be set up by local mental health and social support agencies. Price said that each booth will teach a different coping skill such as yoga or coloring.

The "fair" venue will feature inflatables, concessions, balloon art and face-painting. Though the first event was funded through a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) grant, organizers would like to see Mental Health Matters become an annual event.

"It's a participatory day," Price said, "but again with the goal of reducing stigma, making the community more aware of mental health concerns and needs, and encouraging treatment."

Mental Health Matters 2019

10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Pulaski Judicial Center Plaza

Downtown Somerset