Town hall meeting focuses on youth mental health

The meeting featured a panel discussion with people who have been affected by mental health problems, addiction and other hardships

Kirkland community members gathered on Jan. 30 for the city’s first town hall meeting of the year, which focused on mental health and other issues youths face locally and nationwide.

Doors at the Kirkland Performance Center opened to the public with an hour-long resource fair in the lobby. Organizations including Teen Link, Youth Eastside Services and NAMI Eastside set up booths to provide overviews of their respective establishments.

After the fair concluded, the event transitioned into a panel discussion with five community members and former King 5 reporter and current Resident XII public relations specialist Roberta Romero as facilitator.

The goal of the event was to start a community discussion as well as address stigmas and resources relevant to the topics of mental health and addiction. All the panelists had in some way been affected — either directly or indirectly — by mental health problems, addiction and other commonly faced hardships.

Early in the event, Romero said the event was close to her heart. While working with King 5, she had noticed that in the last 10 years, stories about mental health and addiction problems among young people were increasing. She also felt a connection to the discussion at hand because she is a recovering alcoholic.

“Tonight is an experiment,” Romero said.

Most of the meeting was spent highlighting the personal stories of the panel members. Featured at the event were Todd Crooks and Laura Crooks, the founders of Chad’s Legacy Project; EvergreenHealth emergency and trauma director Faye Lindquist; local parent Raelene Bushmaker; Recovery Alliance executive director Lauren Davis and Resident XII graduates Maddie Hager and Tamaria Sanderson.

The Crookses talked about their oldest son Chad, who, after a long struggle with schizophrenia, committed suicide in 2015. After his death, the Crookses formed Chad’s Legacy Project, which has focused on breaking the stigmas associated with mental illness and accelerating the roles of available resources since its inception.

“Please remember that you matter and that there’s help out there,” Laura Crooks said to the audience.

“We’re not here because of what we know right now,” Todd Crooks added. “We’re here because of what we didn’t know.”

After they shared their story, Lindquist talked about how EvergreenHealth’s emergency department has been affected by mental health problems. She said about 23 percent of the patients the department sees on average is between the ages of 6 and 21.

Lindquist added that the department is sometimes the first place kids go because parents often do not know what to do when faced with a psychotic break, for instance.

Like the Crookses, Bushmaker also lost her child at a young age. In 2016, her daughter Georgia overdosed on heroin.

Bushmaker recounted how difficult it was to get her daughter proper treatment during her life. While reaching out to Residence XII a few years ago, she found out that there was and continues to be no specific protocol for heroin detox in Kirkland.

Although Georgia did eventually receive treatment, Bushmaker said it had to be done in California. When her daughter’s addiction reignited soon after, the lack of nearby resources proved to be harmful.

“I need my daughter to not be a statistic,” Bushmaker said.

Afterward, Davis brought up how she has personally been affected by mental health issues and addiction and how it has played a part in her current role as the executive director of the Recovery Alliance.

In high school, Davis had experienced profound depression as a result of a friend’s suicide. This eventually inspired her to work for Forefront, a University of Washington-based suicide prevention organization.

Simultaneously, she acted as a caregiver of a friend who was dealing with alcohol and opioid addiction. Davis remembered how the way the medical community dealt with her friend’s addictions disturbed her.

“I was told by professionals that I should prepare for his funeral,” she said.

As a result, Davis looked into solving gaps in the system and ended up becoming a crucial force in developing Ricky’s Law, a piece of legislation that aims to create a unified involuntary commitment law that allows those who are both harming themselves and affected by chemical dependency to receive proper care.

Following Davis’ statements, Residence XII graduates Hager and Sanderson talked about their first-hand experiences with mental health and addiction.

Hager is a junior at UW and is currently recovering from addiction. She recounted her struggles with self-harm and addiction throughout her middle and high school years and how they also impacted her early days as a college student.

After recently seeking treatment from Residence XII, Hager was immediately struck by how other women in the program had had positive experiences. Hager ultimately had a positive experience, too.

“There is a hope there that I found,” she said.

Hager felt the need to participate on the panel because she wants people to know that it’s ok to seek help if you need it.

Sanderson, a wife and mother, similarly wanted to inspire people in the audience to seek treatment if necessary. Being part of the event was important to her both because she is a recovering alcoholic and because her children are — like her — genetically predisposed to addiction.

By participating in the panel discussion, Sanderson hoped to learn about different ways to speak with her children about these issues.

“I need your help,” she said. “My children need your help…It takes a community.”

After every panelist spoke, the meeting transitioned into a community discussion. Early into the event, residents were encouraged to write a question pertaining to mental health and or addiction on a note card. Romero read the questions aloud.

Topics of interest included the rise of mental health issues among youth, how to navigate relationships with loved ones who might need treatment, how 30-day treatment programs work and more. Panel members shared their insights.

After the question-and-answer session concluded, Romero assured the audience that there would be more to come.

“This is the beginning, not the end,” she said. “We are starting this conversation.”