Parents and college students logged on from Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania to learn more about mental health and wellness. Participants also joined from Gainesville and Miami, Florida.
The four-day virtual symposium, “In Transition: Mental Wellness in an Ever Changing World,” consists of 22 presentations covering a variety of mental health topics including suicide prevention, wellness, self-care and mindfulness. The presentations are conducted by crisis center staff, mental health professionals, community partners and counselor educators from multiple organizations.
The wellness symposium has been held every year in September since 2017 in honor of Suicide Prevention Month.
Last year, the symposium shifted from an in-person event to a virtual event. Around 350 people registered from around the world in 2020, according to the crisis center’s mobile response coordinator Amanda DiLorenzo-Garcia. This year’s event saw similar turnout with about 350 people registered of Monday. DiLorenzo-Garcia believes it is more important than ever to raise awareness during Suicide Prevention Month.
“Prevention is about knowledge,” she said. “It’s about access to so many things in the community year-round, and so we can help the general public get access to experts in the field and they can share information and resources.”
The crisis center received about 3,500 calls every month in 2020, DiLorenzo-Garcia said.
Kimberly Henderson, 45, an attendee and elder abuse project coordinator with Elder Options, said she has attended the crisis center’s symposiums in previous years and believes they provide necessary information about mental health, which often correlate with her work.
“I often work with clients who have experienced some sort of trauma due to abuse, neglect or exploitation, and mental health often overlaps with trauma and crisis intervention,” she said. “So, I always find that the topics they offer are very helpful and relevant to my day-to-day work with clients.”
Originally, Henderson said the pre-pandemic symposiums focused on youth mental health and wellness as well as suicide prevention and awareness. At the time, Henderson was a mother to two high school teenagers who had several friends that died of suicide.
“It was important for me to go and learn more about how to prevent suicide and what kind of resources are available so that I could be a resource for others who may be experiencing issues and having suicidal thoughts,” she said.
On Monday at 5:30 p.m., Henderson logged on as Alachua County Crisis Center director and this year’s keynote speaker, Ali Martinez, welcomed everyone to the first session of the virtual symposium.
Martinez opened with a presentation on the impact of disconnection, stigma and shame on mental health and suicide risk. She also included information about current data and research trends and shared different prevention strategies and advice on having self-compassion during these difficult times.
“I think it’s important as we talk about this, and as I am encouraging you on an individual community level to have these really difficult conversations, to also talk about what that means for us and how we take care of ourselves as we do that,” she said. “We tend to be really, really hard on ourselves.”
With the session shifting to an open discussion, attendees flooded the chat with messages or unmuted themselves to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences with mental health struggles and wellness.
Other sessions held on the first day included “Yoga & Mindfulness,” “Representation in Mental Health: Identifying Barriers to Utilization of Services,” “The Medicalization of Wellness” and “Refilling Your Cup: Self-Compassion for Caregivers, Counseling and Teachers.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis of national survey data, 11% of adults, 26% being young adults, reported thoughts of suicide during the pandemic. From 2019 to 2021, adults reported having anxiety and/or depression symptoms increased by 274%.
The virtual symposium continued until Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. presenting on topics such as burnout, mental health effects from the pandemic, psychiatric medication, coping skills, Black mental health and the benefits of exercising.
Although registration for the event closed on Monday at 5 p.m., DiLorenzo-Garcia said people can still register for the event. The crisis center offers 24-hour suicide intervention phone counseling and services to all Alachua County residents. You can contact the center at 352-264-6785 for help and more information about other services they provide.