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By Renee Summers
Telegram Reporter 

Community Mental Health Forum Held in Inkster


Westwood Superintendent Dr. Stiles Simmons tells Inkster residents what his school district is doing to help students and families in crisis.

Thanks to a cooperative effort between the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (DWMHA), and the city of Inkster, a community forum on mental health issues, substance abuse and disability issues was held on June 6 at the Booker Dozier Recreation Center. The forum ran from 6 to 8 p.m.

A panel of experts answered questions from community members, promoting an open dialogue about such concerns. The panel included Dana Lasenby of DWMHA, Valerie Bonner of Strategies to Overcome Obstacles and Avoid Recidivism (SOOAR), Monica Geldres of Western Wayne Family Health Centers, Westwood Schools Superintendent Stiles Simmons, Carie Vella, social worker at David Hicks Elementary in Inkster, and Nicole Brown of Starfish Family Services. The forum's organizer, Inkster Police Chief William Riley said, "We wanted to have it in this type of forum so people could hear what's out there and also ask questions."

About two dozen residents were in attendance. Discussion and questions focused on mental health and behavioral issues, substance abuse, and the resulting problems arising with those issues for families residing in and around Inkster.

The panelists and attendees discussed topics such as treatment, recovery options, shame and embarrassment, depression, and suicide prevention. The panelists emphasized that when an individual is having trouble with mental health or addiction issues, it affects the entire family. Simmons stressed that in addition to helping students, the Westwood School District is working to educate parents and staff as well regarding the challenges such families face. "We have no choice but to address the issues that our students are coming into school with," he said. Simmons added that the district relies on community partners and social agencies as sources for referral and support.

SOOAR's Bonner suggested that families today are losing the ability to connect, adding that working and single parents are busy and often, time for interaction and family mealtime falls by the wayside. Given the intrusive nature of social media and other technologies, many families simply do not connect face to face.

Attendees were also given information on how to recognize when someone they know is struggling with a mental health or substance abuse problem and who to go to for help. Starfish's Brown added that the organization offers training for groups, such as church groups, on how to identify and assess a crisis situation, and how to best find a source of help.

Panelists also agreed on the need to eliminate the stigma associated with issues of mental health and addiction, which often keeps people from reaching out for help. They also let the residents know that it is alright to ask, "How can I help my loved one?" and to admit that they don't know exactly what to do in a crisis.

Police Chief William Riley said his officers recently completed training in handling mental and behavioral issue-related cases while on the job. Last January and February, Riley explained his officers answered roughly 50 calls which involved a mental health problem. "Technically, this is not a police department issue, but we see that there is a need," he added.

Westwood Superintendent Dr. Stiles Simmons tells Inkster residents what his school district is doing to help students and families in crisis.

In addition to the panel, vendors also set up tables with information for attendees. Vendors included Starfish Family Services, Oak Street Health, and the City of Inkster's Commission on Aging.

Riley said the forum was only the first of many more. "Mental health, substance abuse, they're big issues," he added.

DWMHA's Tiffany Devon said the forum was a service to the community. She said the organization wanted to ensure the city was able to have a conversation with its residents on behavioral and mental health issues and how and where to find resources and help. "We are a community mental health organization, that's what we do, "said Devon. "We get down and dirty, we get in the community, and help people."

Starfish Family Services can be reached at The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority can be reached at Inkster Police Chief William Riley can be reached at [email protected].


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