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YMCA hosts gathering of mental health stakeholders

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Warren County YMCA Executive Director Thad Turner speaks to a gathering of mental health stakeholders on Thursday. Turner introduced his hopes that the YMCA could partner with those other providers to cover many community needs.

Most people think of the YMCA as a gym — a place where they can work on their physical wellness.

But, the YMCA has a mission of “enriching the lives of all people in spirit, mind and body.”

Warren YMCA Executive Director Thad Turner is hoping to create some focus on the spirit and the mind where there has always been a focus on the body.

“We talk about body all the time here,” Turner said. “I feel like we’re missing two-thirds of that equation.”

Being able to “run faster and lift more weight… that’s great,” he said. “There’s so much more in the community that we could be involved in. Mental health is as much a pandemic as COVID.”

“With fitness, we’re trying to prevent health issues in the future,” Turner said. “We want to be that same kind of resource for mental health.”

While he cited research that states exercise and activity help reprogram the brain in a director of better mental health, and people are welcome to work out their stress, the efforts at the YMCA would not all be passive.

Turner said he intends for the Spark Program and Brain Breaks to become part of the early learning center, and just providing a space for youth to get together and talk.

YMCA staff offered day passes to those professionals to give to young people who could use a physical outlet.

The YMCA would also offer young people volunteer opportunities and a chance to help people and be involved in their community. “They leave here feeling a bigger part of something,” Marketing Director Kim Slocum said.

“If you feel like you’re a part of the game, that’s a giant deal,” Turner said.

Knowing he and his staff are not professional mental health providers, Turner looked to those who are for help and advice.

On Thursday, the YMCA hosted a varied group of community mental health stakeholders — from professional therapists and social workers, to teachers and school counselors, to police and probation officers.

“There are all kinds of things happening in the community — suicides, escalating behavioral problems, kids that seemingly have everything in their lives are depressed, mothers and fathers in their 30s that seem to have everything are drinking two bottles of wine at night to get through the next day.”

“Everybody gets a physical every year,” Turner said. “When was the last time somebody got a mental health physical? Probably never. Maybe once.”

Turner hoped to bring their thoughts, skills, and abilities together to better serve the community’s needs.

“I want to make sure we’re addressing the needs of the community. We have to be more deliberate in addressing mental health issues,” he said. “This is what we’re trying to do. We hope to learn from you guys.”

The feedback was positive from the providers and several had suggestions immediately.

“We have a lot of mental health providers,” one said. “We cover a lot of ground, but there are holes.”

She recommended the creation of various peer groups and support groups and the establishment of spaces to hold those gatherings.

“A lot of people are joining Facebook support groups,” another said. “Face-to-face would be so beneficial.”

Another professional said providers are often overworked and stressed and need their own supports. “It’s hard for us to say we’re not ok,” she said. “Teachers, counselors, health care workers… if we can help that layer…”

Providing physical activities that are more fun and less “workout” was another suggestion. “We all work so hard,” one provider said. “The Y system needs to promote physical activity as fun.”

Turner said he hopes to be able to provide guidance to leaders at other YMCAs to help them help their home communities. “We can make a giant impact on our community, but it’s going to be way bigger than that,” he said.

The group plans to meet again, possibly on a regular and ongoing basis.

One immediate impact of the group was to pave the way for young people who typically spend after-school hours at the Warren Public Library to have space at the Y for the week of Jan. 24 through 31 while the library is closed for renovations.

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