Brainstorming on awareness at Mental Health Forum

With the incidence of mass public shootings on the rise, nearly 100 parents, students, mental health professionals and concerned citizens gathered to learn more about the causes, preventative measures and what to look out for during a panel discussion featuring local speakers during the Children’s Mental Health Forum at the Gifford Youth Achievement Center last Thursday evening, sponsored by Proctor Construction Company.

The turnout spoke to the level of concern residents have about the safety of their children as they sought answers on how to identify mental health issues in children and keep students safe.

“We wanted to give the community an opportunity to speak about children’s mental health in light of the incidents that recently happened,” shared Angelia Perry, GYAC executive director. “We wanted to have experts speak to the community about what we can do as parents and citizens to help address these issues and help us help our children succeed.”

GYAC Guidance Counselor Carrie Williams served as the mistress of ceremonies, and before introducing the expert panelists said, “as an African-American woman I know that our community is beginning to embrace mental health services although there continues to be a stigma attached to it. Many times our children struggle with issues that we as parents are clueless about. I want to encourage everyone to keep the lines of communication open with our children, listen not to hear but listen to understand them, respect their feelings, be honest and be patient with them.”

Jeffrey Shearer, Tykes and Teens co-founder, a local nonprofit that provides mental health services to children in need on a sliding scale, explained the difference between mental health and mental illness, noting “for most of the mass shootings, it is not because of mental illness. Most of them it is because of a level of disconnection. Not feeling that you are part of the community. That’s one of the great things about this center. It allows people to feel like they are part of something. When we feel like we are part of something, then we have a purpose. We have a connection with other individuals.”

Addressing some of the concerns of audience members regarding school shootings, Maj. Eric Flowers from the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office talked about the signs to watch for and what measures are being taken by local law enforcement to prevent and handle active shooter situations.

Flowers explained that every school in the county will have a school resource officer on site and SROs recently completed training at Vero Beach High School, where they participated in a mock active-shooter situation. The most important thing students can do, according to Flowers, is “if you see something, say something. Find an adult you trust and tell them what you know.”

The final speaker made suggestions on how to embrace the healing powers of nature. Maryam Ghadiri, ELC director of education and research, discussed the benefits of nature on reducing stress and anxiety. She explained that many children today suffer from a nature deficit disorder because they don’t spend enough time outside.

“When we take children outside they are more engaged, more confident, they build something, and they learn to be observers,” said Ghadiri. “Hug a tree and teach our kids to take that time outside.”

“GYAC not only stands for the Gifford Youth Achievement Center, it stands for Giving Youth A Chance. That’s why we’re here tonight, to change lives,” said Freddie Woolfork, GYAC public relations director. “We’ve gotta communicate, and here at Gifford Youth Achievement Center we’re teaching our kids how to communicate, how to be sociable, but most of all that rules without relationship brings about a rebellion.”

To learn more about the Gifford Youth Achievement Center, visit

Photos by: Gordon Radford and Stephanie Labaff
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