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Mental health a priority for local leaders

Pickens Superintendent of Schools Travis Thom- as said in his more than 30 years in education he has never seen children in crisis like they are now.

“We want to blame COVID, but our kids are experiencing trauma unlike they have before,” he said. “Anything we can do to help our students before they become adults regarding their mental health and safety is great.”

Thomas was one of many local leaders who spoke about the importance of mental health awareness at a proclamation signing where May was declared Mental Health Awareness Month. The event was held at Good Samaritan Health & Wellness Center, which has recently expanded its build- ing and now has a teen and adolescent therapist in addition to four other behavioral health therapists.

Pickens Commission Chair Kris Stancil, before reading the proclamation, said he doubted anyone in the room had not been impacted by someone with mental health issues. The proclamation states that one in five American adults experiences a mental health condition each year, and that many don’t seek help because of the stigma surrounding it.

Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver said the judicial circuit of Pickens County stands out in the state as a supporter of men- tal health.

“We have one of the big- gest mental health courts in the state of Georgia, which is unusual if you think about the size of our circuit,” she said. “The needs are so great that we are thrilled that Sheriff Craig has start- ed along with Highland Riv- ers a co-response team that includes a law enforcement officer and therapist on cer- tain calls.”

Pickens is one of only three counties in the state to have a co-response team.

“We feel like we have a long way to go, but we certainly have come a long way in the last few years,” Weaver said. “Sometimes we are their only hope to get help, otherwise they’re go- ing to be in and out of jail… and that’s not the goal for the county and not the right thing to do if the person has true mental health issues… we need to continue to work to provide services to those who are less able to help themselves.”

Weaver and Stancil applauded the late House Speaker David Ralston for his impact on mental health services, specifically referring to HB 1013 which requires health insurance to cover mental health services.

Good Sam Behavioral Health Director Julie Ever- ett appreciates increasing awareness and reducing stigma around mental health and said, “Without mental health, there is no health at all. We’re blessed at Good Sam with a good team of counselors and medical providers who have a great level of support for mental health.”

Representative Rick Jasperse, who also touched on Ralston’s impact with HB1013, said the General Assembly recognizes the importance of access

to mental health treatment across the state.

“We have poured a ton of money into it to help fund workers and access…and it’s been rewarding to be able to do that,” he said.

Commission chair Stancil, “…encourage[s] all res- idents of Pickens County to educate themselves and others about mental health conditions and treatments, challenge stigma…seek help if someone is struggling… support organizations that provide mental health services and advocacy,”

May is also National Mental Health Awareness Month.

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