Detroit Neighborhood Police Officer Dan Robinson says he’s noticed a disturbing trend among children and teens in his patrol area over the past two years: an increase in depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts.
“Because of COVID, we’ve seen more (mental health issues) with kids,” Robinson said. “So we wanted to figure out what we could do to bring resources to them.”
Robinson says that’s why he worked with the Detroit Police Department, Chief James White and the Detroit Public Safety Foundation to organize the city’s first Teen Wellness Summit. Held Saturday at four Detroit locations, the event welcomed nearly 300 tweens and teens for a day of panel discussions, motivational talks and activities designed to fortify them with the tools and resources needed to tackle deal with mental health issues.
“We came up with this idea so kids would be comfortable with sharing feelings,” Robinson said. “We want them to know how to identify if they have a problem and what to do about it – and the same for their friends and family.”
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The event, which was held live at the Fort Pontchartrain Hotel and then streamed live to three satellite sites, began with a lively (and parent-free) group session moderated by the Communities and Neighborhoods reporter from Free Press, Jasmine Barmore.
“If you’re struggling with mental issues, you’re usually a victim of something,” Barmore said. “I just want kids to know, just like adults know, that it’s okay not to be well. But what’s wrong is not to be well and not to talk. “
That point came through loud and clear as Barmore worked the crowd, handing out gift cards and presents to kids who got up and danced or shared their questions and feelings with the room.
The session reached an emotional climax when former Detroit Lions player Eric Hipple took the stage to share his experiences dealing with mental health issues in his own family, moving some young attendees to tears.
“I lost my son to suicide when he was 15,” Hipple said, holding back tears. “It’s a real disease, it’s a real disease. I just didn’t recognize the symptoms. That’s why I’m so keen on communication and vouching for yourself. If you think something’s wrong, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. Hang in there and keep going.”
This communication between parents and children is essential, Robinson said, adding that parents attending the event were directed to their own session, which offered resources designed to help them identify signs of mental and emotional problems in young people. .
“When parents don’t know how to communicate with children, it sometimes puts them at odds,” Robinson said. “We have to constantly evolve as parents, myself included, and we have to try to find ways to communicate with our children.”
While some attendees said they came to the event solely to increase their awareness of mental health topics, others came hoping to get help for specific issues they face.
“I lost my grandparents, so I was in a phase where I was depressed,” said 11-year-old Noah Abkins. “I’m hoping to get some help figuring out how to handle this a bit.”
Tamira Carruth, 17, said she hoped to better understand her emotional ups and downs.
“I feel like I have symptoms of bipolar disorder, so I want to find out more and see if that’s what’s going on,” she said.
Participants had the opportunity to address more specific topics, including grief, loneliness and mental illness, in afternoon breakout sessions led by mental health professionals.
“Not everyone wants to hear about depression, not everyone wants to hear about trauma,” said Patti Kukula, executive director of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation. “So kids can voluntarily choose to go places where they can have more intimate discussions about those specific things.”
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Robinson said Saturday’s summit is just the start of what will be an ongoing effort to engage Detroit’s children and teens on mental health topics.
“We’re actually going to do another (summit) in September, because one thing we didn’t want to do is create something that’s here and gone,” Robinson said. “We want to create something that still exists, so kids can still have access to resources.”
To connect with mental health resources in Wayne County, visit dwihn.com.
Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email her at [email protected] or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.