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St. Charles mental health summit begins

ST. CHARLES – A map marking the locations of the nation’s mass shootings last year – including Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Tennessee – filled the screen Wednesday in St. Charles East High School’s Little Theatre.

“We are literally surrounded by violence,” said Kim Svevo-Cianci, co-founder, president and executive director of Changing Children’s Worlds Foundation.

Svevo-Cianci was the night’s featured speaker, kicking off St. Charles School District 303’s four-part mental health summit.

Co-chaired by Jim DiCiaula and Mary Pat Ryan, this reconvening of Summit 303 aims to build a common understanding of the mental health challenges facing the community with an emphasis on children in teens.

The hope is “to influence and drive actions that will positively change perceptions of mental illness and related issues, improve early identification and intervention, and enhance the quality and simplify the accessibility of support systems within our community including but not limited to, impacted children, teens and their families,” according to the written goal.

This summit, like those before it, seeks community input.

“Your opinions and ideas are needed now,” DiCiaula said.

Violence, such as mass shootings, and the stresses of life are reasons for this discussion, Svevo-Cianci said.

“The reason we are here today is to be proactive,” she said.

While major episodes of school violence are rare, Svevo-Cianci said, studies indicate signs of mental illness in the youths carrying out these crimes are not.

Experts say kids turn to violence and act out violent fantasies because of mental illness and social isolation.

“The good news is as a community we can do a lot to address both of these issues,” Svevo-Cianci said.

About 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious mental and emotional disorders, she said. Of children in Illinois, about 7.5 percent ages 3 to 17 have moderate or severe social or emotional problems, and only 20 percent will get mental health services.

Mental illness is treatable and preventable, she said. Just as parents take their children to the emergency room for broken bones and nasty cuts, they also must seek mental health treatment for their kids when needed, she said.

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