Our speaker Jordan Burnham shares his story at an important suicide prevention forum hosted by State Rep. Mike Vereb at Methacton High School

State Rep. Mike Vereb (R-150th Dist.) hosts a forum on youth mental health and suicide prevention at Methacton High School Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014.

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Suicide prevention forum at Methacton High School stresses help for youth in crisis By Brendan Wills, The Times Herald

WORCESTER >> A panel of seven mental health experts gathered at Methacton High School to help raise awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention at a forum hosted Wednesday night by state Rep. Mike Vereb (R-150th Dist.).

“For some reason there was a trigger in my brain saying I don’t belong here anymore,” said panel member Jordan Burnham, a former Upper Merion student who survived a suicide attempt in 2007. Burnham, since recovered from the injuries he suffered after jumping from a nine-story building when he was a senior in high school, has gone around the country raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. Currently he speaks for Minding Your Mind, a mental health education provider.

“I kept saying yes because I knew if I kept saying yes I would break down the stigma,” Burnham said about his decision to be interviewed for the Philadelphia Inquirer and subsequently Sports Illustrated and other media outlets.

For Burnham, the struggle continues, and while he often finds it hard to take his own advice, he stresses the importance of always keeping avenues open.

The point of the forum was to make people aware of those avenues.

“The goal is not to tell you what we think is absolutely right but to educate you on what your community is doing to help,” Vereb said.

Panel members touched upon the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, and they noted the stigma’s ability to stop important conversations from happening between those who need help and those you can give it.

Tory Bright, director of Southeastern PA Regional Mental Health Services Coordination Office, and Tricia Malott of Adult Youth Mental Health both spoke of programming available through Montgomery County called Mental Health First Aid. Like a CPR class that helps save lives in medical emergencies, the program teaches people how to help during mental health situations.

“We have this great capacity to put on a mask and pretend everything is okay,” Malott said of those in need of help who fear losing control or freedom in their lives. The program, Malott said, helps individuals to recognize risk factors and warning signs. In addition, it teaches the appropriate ways to start dialogue with those in need.

Eric Smith and Jessica Fenchel, the directors of Montgomery County’s youth and adult crisis support programs respectively, described the types of programs available for those in crisis.

Some of those programs include phone numbers that adults and teens can call if they need someone to talk to or are in danger of hurting themselves, including Montgomery County Children’s Crisis Support, Montgomery County Teen Talk Line, and Montgomery County Peer Support Talk Line.

“A lot of times what we find is that the best thing you can do is to just be present,” Fenchel said about the importance of the availability of conversation for those who might be struggling internally with issues.

Fenchel said that the more avenues for discussion available help “to create a society where someone doesn’t have to be afraid to talk about their struggle.”

Amy Smith, education specialist with the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, and Lois Robinson, the MCIU’s director of special education, focused on the support systems in place in local districts.

Smith spoke of student assistance programs, in place in all school districts in Montgomery County, that focus on collaborative environments for students to talk to peers, counselors, and parents.

“It’s truly through sharing that we can get to an intervention,” Smith said, referring to the need for schools, parents and peers to share data in an appropriate manner to make sure help is found.

Following the panel discussion, the community was invited to ask questions and comment on the night’s proceedings.