‘OK not to feel OK’

Warren woman teaming with school district to deal with mental health, suicide prevention

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Some of the inspirational quotes provided by CORE — Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences — that will be spread around Warren County School District schools with the goal of opening lines of communication about mental health issues and helping students deal with anxiety.

Sometimes, talking can save a life.

The goal of CORE — Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences — is to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education.

CORE founder Kari Swanson hopes to help make dealing with mental health issues as commonplace as dealing with physical ailments.

“We know what to do if something is physically wrong with us. We address it. We know what to do with it,” Swanson said. “What my overall goal is is to change to the culture of how people deal with others who don’t feel good inside.”

Shutting down or letting that person who confided that they don’t feel good inside deal with it themselves are some of the ways people handle that situation, Swanson said. “That needs to change.”

Putting on a happy face all the time and bottling those feelings up is not right either. “It’s OK to feel not OK,” she said.

She hopes a student who sees that kind of message might think, “I can get through that.”

A series of inspirational quotes — addressing bullying, anxiety, decency, kindness, and suicide — will be put up in each of the schools in the Warren County School District. Each school will have its own set to start the year and students will rotate them from one school to another every nine weeks.

“It costs $0.00 to be a decent human being,” one of the signs says.

“Be a buddy, not a bully,” another says.

“Maybe these will start to change the culture of how kids treat each other,” Swanson said. “That’s the beginning.”

CORE received an establishing donation from a family.

Swanson hopes to advance the organization’s mission and to build on that endowment in September, which is Suicide Prevention Month.

“I have two events that I am organizing to bring awareness of mental health issues and to raise funds to further support CORE’s mission of providing education and awareness to the communities of Warren County,” she said.

There will be a 14-hole “wacky” golf scramble at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, at Blueberry Hill Golf Course.

The event is not only for the serious golfer, she said, and there is a prize for last place.

From 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, there will be a Glow Fun Walk at War Memorial Field. “This event is open to families and individuals,” she said. “The first 30 signed up will receive a glow-in-the-dark shirt for the event as well as a glow-in-the-dark necklace and bracelet.”

The step after that is to introduce some testimonials.

Working with the school district, Swanson has arranged for a movie and guest speakers to present information in the schools and the community.

The movie Angst — www.angstmovie.com — will be shown at each of the middle and high schools in the district and then for parents, family members, elementary school teachers, and others who are interested.

“Angst highlights the issue of anxiety in youth and the interpretation that is sometimes made by teachers, parents, friends, etc., of the person who is struggling with anxiety,” Swanson said. “This is told by youths as young as 11 about their experiences with anxiety.”

“It’s a fabulous movie,” she said. “It will help parents, teachers, and friends, deal with anxiety.”

The organization is also working with MindingYourMind out of Philadelphia.

“CORE will be bringing a young man, Andrew, to Warren County in November for two days to present his real-life experiences to the middle and high school students in Warren, Eisenhower, Youngsville, and Sheffield,” Swanson said. There will also be a community presentation.

CORE is working on more speakers. “I then want something in January and February,” Swanson said. “Keep it in front of people. Change the culture.”

For Swanson, creating an entity that brings mental health awareness and suicide prevention is just the right thing to do.

She is driven by “24 years of being in mental health, seeing people who are on the brink of despair.” In many cases, “because they were able to come and get help, they now are prosperous.”

In some cases, often among those who are unwilling or unable to get help, that despair can lead to suicide. “It’s so much more prevalent than people realize,” Swanson said. “The statistics are not accurate. People don’t think that there’s an issue due to underreporting.”

“It’s preventable by educating and making it so we are more comfortable talking about it,” she said. “We just need to know how to get someone the help that they need when we know that they aren’t feeling well.”

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