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Summit 303 focuses on signs of mental illness

ST. CHARLES – Most adults gathered at St. Charles East High School’s Little Theatre on Wednesday night indicated they would be willing to talk with a stranger about a diabetes diagnosis.

But fewer would be as willing to engage in a discussion about a diagnosis of depression.

Peggy Kubert, executive director of Erika’s Lighthouse: A Beacon of Hope for Adolescent Depression, said the responses demonstrate the stigma society has about mental health.

“There should be no shame or guilt around a mental health issue,” she said. “We all have to get over our stigma.”

Indicators of mental illness were the focus of the latest Summit 303 meeting. St. Charles School District 303 revived the community engagement sessions last month to address community mental health.

Mental illnesses include depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, conduct disorder, eating disorders and anxiety, Kubert said. She noted stress is not a mental illness.

“Stress is a fact of life, and our children have stress,” she said.

To identify whether something is wrong, it’s important for parents to know their children and what is typical of them, Kubert said.

She went through a list of 24 possible symptoms, which included loss of interest in favorite activities, feelings of guilt and excessive risk-taking behavior. Symptoms should be observed for at least two weeks, she said, noting the presence of five symptoms that could indicate something is wrong.

If intervention is needed, Kubert suggested using such language as “I notice,” “I care” and “How can I help.”

Parents should listen to their children, take them to a pediatrician to rule out a physical illness, and get them immediate attention if they are in danger of hurting themselves or others, she said.

“It is better to err on the side of caution than to wait to be sure that your kid’s got a mental health crisis,” Kubert said.

Kubert said there are “protective factors” children can learn to build up resilience.

A resilient teen can identify problems and stressors; uses positive coping strategies; has one adult who will always be there to listen; and, among other characteristics, is willing to ask for help, Kubert said.

“They can learn all this stuff,” she said. “It’s our job to teach this to our kids.”

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