Community leaders to host youth mental health forum in Bedford Tuesday night

Families from across DFW are invited to attend the free event at Midcities Montessori

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Tarrant County communities are turning loss into hope for the future.

Following the suicides of teenagers within three days of each other at the same school in Keller ISD, a group of educators and mental health professionals are coming together to host a community mental health forum in Bedford on Tuesday evening.

The BREATHE: A Mental Health Forum begins at 6 p.m. at Midcities Montessori on 209 Harwood Road in Bedford. The event is free for anyone in the metroplex who wants to speak one-on-one with professionals about youth mental health.

School director Kim Olstrup – one of the driving forces behind the effort – said they want to make sure as many families as possible get access to the help they need.

"Let's talk about our kids and what our kids need. That is more important right now, than sitting and focusing on what happened in our community and what are we going to do? It's more of, let's make this not happen again in our community,” she said.

The effort began just over a month ago in reaction to a call for help from a Keller ISD father, Scottie Cooper, who lost his teenage son, Anthony, to suicide.

The 16-year-old was one of two students to take their own life within three days at Timber Creek High School in April.

Cooper told NBC 5 at the time that his son had been outspoken about feeling depressed in the past and had previously experienced bullying, but he didn’t show any signs of struggling in the weeks before his death.

Olstrup said the tragedies spurred herself, several community leaders, and mental health professionals to come together and organize the forum being held Tuesday night. They also created a Facebook group for families to join and seek mental health resources.

“We thought we should put together a place where people can ask questions, where people can educate themselves, and get the proper answers from the viable sources. Because searching the internet is not exactly the best place to find all this information,” she said. "It's open to anyone that may have questions. Bullying happens a whole lot more than we're aware of. And knowing the children, giving them a voice, and knowing that they're heard is really, really important.”

Olstrup is working with Ashley Stafford, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of Canvas Outpatient, an adolescent intensive outpatient clinic in Hurst serving 12- to 17-year-olds.

Stafford will be on-site at the forum to connect with parents, along with other mental health professionals, including a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

“We know from the National Institute of Mental Health that suicide is actually the second leading cause of death in the year 2021 for children ages 10 to 14 and the third leading cause of death from 15 to 24,” she said. “So I think sometimes what happens in our community, it feels like a shock, but I can say from being in this field for a long time that it is a problem and it is an epidemic in this entire country."

The pandemic has been a common denominator in the increase of mental Another study estimates that suicide rates jumped 27% for people aged 18 or less in the United States after COVID began

Topics at Tuesday’s forum include depression signs and symptoms, myths about suicide, bullying, and social media’s impact on youth.

“I think it's important to normalize the fact that it's not just your family. It's not just your kid. There's a lot of people suffering. And that is okay. If we can de-stigmatize, take away the shame and understand that there is help out there available – and it's okay to talk about it – it gives people permission to open up and ask for help."

The forum will also heavily focus on an open and honest conversation that parents can have with licensed mental health professionals.

“I think with just introducing people face-to-face with the providers that are here for the community will help them feel more comfortable in accessing care,” said Stafford.

Canvas Outpatient is also connecting families with resources, including free evaluations to help for those unsure of the level of care their child might need.

Olstrup said if they see more opportunities and requests for mental health forums like this, her school will open its doors to host more in the future.

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