By Zack Murdock | DANBURY NEWSTIMES
Photo: contributed from Danbury Newstimes
Mental health professionals and Danbury school leaders will host the first in a series of forums on adolescent mental health on Thursday. It will be the first organized public discussion about mental health after 16-year-old Hailey Nailor, center, took her own life outside the Danbury Fair Mall on Feb. 9.
Mental health professionals and city school leaders will hold the first in a series of forums on adolescent mental health next week in the wake of a local teenager’s death in early February.
The forum is designed to help parents address the recent trauma with their children and connect them with professionals and service providers who can help families and children struggling with their own mental health.
The panel at 6 p.m. Thursday night will include top school district officials, suicide prevention experts, and mental and behavioral health professionals in the new black box theater at Danbury High School.
“We’ve been talking about how to support individuals beginning up at the high school and then extending it out into the community with the incident that happened two weeks ago,” Superintendent Sal Pascarella said. “Unfortunately, there’s a body of knowledge around the incident and we went through the best practices in terms of how we can approach this in a meaningful way. This will be the first step and there will be a second and third step as well.”
The event will be the first organized public discussion about mental health after 16-year-old Hailey Nailor took her own life outside the Danbury Fair Mall on Feb. 9. The incident and social media fervor that followed shook the Danbury High community.
One of Nailor’s friends originally had proposed a vigil in her memory at the mall after her death, but it was scuttled by dozens of mental health professionals from across the state who determined it would not be a healthy way for students and friends to cope with the sudden trauma.
Those same experts and providers have worked with school leaders in the weeks since to devise this new forum as an organized and safe way to discuss the incident with the appropriate resources on hand.
It is expected to be the first of several forums to be scheduled throughout the spring to break down the stigma around discussing mental health, in both children and adults, and better connect families to existing services.
“Amen, amen, this is music to my ears,” said Tom Steen, chairman of the Connecticut chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and one the experts who has helped local officials organize their community response after Nailor’s death.
“We’re glad the community is responding positively for healing purposes,” he continued. “Mental health is just as important as physical health. We’re all afraid to talk about it and shame on us, we can’t do that anymore. Mental health and suicide prevention is something everyone should begin to talk about and will save lives.”
The Wellmore Behavioral Health Adolescent Mobile Crisis Unit will attend the forum and participants include Pascarella, Danbury High School Principal Dan Donovan and district Director of Pupil Personnel Services Kelly Truchsess.
They will focus on teaching parents what kind of help is available and how to use referral services for their family, if they need, Truchsess said. The panel also will hold a question-and-answer session to address parents’ specific questions, she said.
School leaders will organize additional sessions for students and eventually members of the general community. District leaders are working with the city’s Department of Health and Human Services to organize those events, although specific dates have not been scheduled, Truchsess said.
That expansion into the community will be a critical piece of pushing the conversation forward to draw something positive from a tragedy, just as the Nailor family has hoped in the weeks since their daughter’s death.
“It’s not only the school’s responsibility, it’s the community’s responsibility to come together to a defeat the stigma around mental health, and more importantly, it’s to speak as one voice,” Steen said. “Whether you’re the mayor, the police department, social services, the schools or even the mall administration, we all work together to educate people and what do when somebody is in trouble.”