Utah events, awareness day spark conversations to reduce stigma of mental health challenges

Labeled Fest, held between Thursday and Saturday in Salt Lake City, gave an opportunity for people to talk about mental illnesses during Mental Health Month in May.
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Labeled Fest, held between Thursday and Saturday in Salt Lake City, gave an opportunity for people to talk about mental illnesses during Mental Health Month in May. (Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com)

Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Many people are trying to normalize conversations about mental health and work towards ending a stigma around metal health that can sometimes keep people from getting needed support.

May is Mental Health Month, and is a good time for people to take some time to consider how they can help. Labeled Fest, which was held Thursday, Friday and Saturday, hosted many presentations geared toward normalizing mental health conversations and focusing on positive labels.

“Really mental health is a superpower, you know, and if we can all see that as a positive label instead of a negative label then we can all enhance the community around us,” Brian Higgins said.

Higgins is the creative director of Mental Healthy F.i.T., which stands for films, ideas and tips, the organization that hosted the event. It is a nonprofit advocacy organization that helps people tell their stories, whether they are about mental health issues or other challenges.

Labeled Fest is held once a year as a place for people who have been involved in the organization’s other events showcase things they have created or learned at workshops throughout the year, according to Higgins.

Higgins said that this event is designed to help people look at positive labels associated with mental health like “creative,” “empathetic” and “connection.” They chose to host the event at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts because of the connection between many artists and mental health.

He said statistics show that one-fifth of people have a diagnosed mental health issue, but that really everyone deals with mental health issues.

“Mental health affects us all,” Higgins said.

The organization also focuses on how to help those who are homeless, Higgins suggested that the easiest way to help homeless people is to smile and give the people some of your time. He said ignoring homelessness also means ignoring people. Higgins was homeless himself for more than 18 months, and said that homeless people are not very different from other people.

“Homelessness can happen to anybody,” he said.

At Labeled Fest, and throughout its other events, Mental Healthy F.i.T is creating kits for homeless people with small things like socks and toiletries and also cards with information about resources.

Higgins said that it is incredible to hold the event in person again.

“There’s just a real energy and a magic to getting people together for a common goal,” Higgins said.

Damon Talbot was involved in Labeled Fest and did a “performative slideshow” which was designed to show that accepting a situation or mental health condition can help improve a person’s outlook, which he said many people told him was inspiring. He is a member of Alliance House, which is a program in Salt Lake City to assist adults with mental illness lead productive lives.

He said a person with mental illness can be successful, even though they will have hard days.

Talbot said for many years after he was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, he stayed home and would isolate and not talk to people, but after he accepted it, he was able to become part of the community again and meet others who were going through the same things. He said community events like Labeled Fest help people to realize that mental illnesses don’t need to ruin their lives.

“So many people that are going through mental illness … they don’t talk about it, so an event like this where you can be vulnerable, you can come out and talk about it is really impactful,” Talbot said.

He said it is important to remember that those with mental illness are like everybody else, they want connections and for people to reach out and acknowledge them. He said people don’t have to necessarily walk on eggshells around people with mental health concerns, but that it can be helpful to take time to learn about their challenges.

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

May is a month for mental health awareness, but more specifically, Saturday is a day to focus on awareness for children’s mental health. Gov. Spencer Cox declared the day Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in Utah, and the day is also acknowledged nationally.

Rebecca Dutson, president and CEO of The Children’s Center Utah, said a big part of the day is reducing the stigma around mental health challenges that people, especially young people, face.

“I think we need to spend more time helping people understand that our very tiniest people, our little children have mental health. And they have mental health concerns,” Dutson said.

She said many people don’t stop to realize that infants, toddlers and preschoolers have mental health concerns, but that addressing these early can change the trajectory of that child’s life. She also said acknowledging the issue can lead to more solutions.

She said that parents should not hesitate, if they have a concern about their child’s mental health, to reach out to a physician, The Children’s Center Utah or other resources to get help for their child. She said that parents and caregivers know their children best, and can recognize when something is different, whether the child is more withdrawn or acting up.

“When you feel that something isn’t quite right, we encourage families to reach out to their pediatricians and begin a conversation,” Dutson said.

The Children’s Center Utah helps children between birth and 6 years old with mental health challenges. Dutson said their clinical team uses trauma-informed and evidence-based treatments that are individualized based on the specific child’s experience and needs.

Dutson said the last two years during the coronavirus pandemic have had an impact on everyone’s mental health; as children were pulled out of school, families were isolated and there were a lot of unknowns, it caused stress for adults, which can increase the mental health concerns for their children.

“I think one of the most important things is that, as families and as a society … we should be talking about it more. It’s foundational to our well-being,” Dutson said.

She said that there are times that everyone needs more help, and that families should normalize talking about mental health.

Suicide prevention concert

Utah performer Alex Boye was scheduled to headline what was billed as the state’s first-ever suicide prevention concert on Saturday, but the concert was postponed until Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m. at the Maverik Center to accommodate for potential Utah Grizzlies hockey playoff games.

Tickets to the sold-out concert were free but distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Utah has the six highest suicide rate in the U.S.,” Boye said. “Music saved my life and I know it can do the same for others, which is why I do these concerts. Our concept is simple: Use these concerts to help build connections, healing and support in our community. This will be an unforgettable night that will feed your soul, and save lives; this is not just a concert … It is an experience.”

Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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