Lecture suggests concrete ways to combat mental health issues, requests public’s help

Lori Alvarado addresses the audience at the Douglas County Community Foundation’s September 23 public forum on mental health.

A Monday night forum addressing mental health attempted to combat the issue of isolation by bringing together the Lawrence community in discussion.

“There’s enormous overlap between those who are isolated and those who are depressed,” said Stephen Ilardi, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Kansas and one of the featured speakers.

About 75 people came to Theatre Lawrence for the Douglas County Community Foundation’s third public forum of the year, which featured eight speakers but allowed all participants the opportunity to speak during small-group breakout discussions at the end of the event.

One of the featured speakers, Sarah Humbert, shared her personal story with depression. After dropping out of college after two years, she struggled to find a purpose in life. But when she got a job at Van Go, a Lawrence arts-based social service agency that provides job training to qualifying youth, she realized that even small acts such as creating a painting could bring joy to her life and the lives of others. She also found herself in a community that relied on her.

“Van Go helped me to find my sense of purpose again,” she said. “They gave me a reason to get out of bed every day.”

Humbert’s messages of the necessity of community support and how one’s purpose can be found even in completing small acts stuck out to attendees, who highlighted these ideas during the large group discussion at the conclusion of the event.

Other speakers offered concrete ideas for combating mental illness. Lori Alvarado, CEO of the local substance abuse rehab center DCCCA, said “We need to give the ideas back to the youth.” She suggested a youth commission be formed, funded and given time to come up with an initiative to help their peers.

Ilardi, whose research focuses on the cause and treatment of depression, offered six concrete lifestyle changes he said combat depression: engage in physical activity, consume more Omega-3s, receive sunlight, sleep, find an anti-ruminative activity and engage in social connection.

Ilardi’s anti-ruminative activity — that is, an activity that helps him take his mind off his worries — is playing the piano.

Gina Meier-Hummel, Kansas’ first Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator, called the audience to action, telling them to be advocates and to engage with others, especially those who might be struggling with suicidal ideation.

“We are behind,” she said of Kansas’ efforts in the prevention of youth suicide. “It’s not going to go away if we don’t do anything about it.”


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.