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Community Concern Spotlight: When it comes to raising mental health awareness, there’s strength in numbers.

That’s the impetus behind the development and west suburban roll out of a special nationally recognized program designed to help trained individuals throughout the community spot the signs of mental illness and take steps to help.

In cooperation with the Rotary Club of LaGrange, DuPage Community Foundation, Illinois Children’s Health Foundation, and the Lyons and Proviso Townships Mental Health Commissions, the Community Memorial Foundation in 2014 began offering an 8-hour Mental Health First Aid course led by trained community members, each with 40 hours of instruction in common mental health challenges.

“It’s surprising for many to learn how common mental illness is and how many friends, family members and neighbors may face a mental health challenge in their lifetime,” says Cathy Kokontis, a licensed clinical social worker, therapist, and youth initiative coordinator at Nazareth Academy, who serves as one of 29 National Council on Behavioral Health trained community instructors for the Mental Health First Aid program.

According to program sponsors, two versions of the course are offered. Adult Mental Health First Aid explores how to help an adult who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crises until appropriate professional help arrives. The training helps participants identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Youth Mental Health First Aid equips caring adults with the knowledge they need to spots signs of mental illness in young people and to help them get proper treatment.

“Mental illness is more common than most people realize,” says Kokontis, who explains that Mental Health First Aid is help offered to a person experiencing a mental health crises and given until appropriate professional help is secured.

The Youth Mental Health First Aid program is designed to teach neighbors, parents, teachers, and older peers how to help a youth or teen experiencing a mental health of substance abuse challenge or who is in crisis. The course discusses mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and provides guidance through action plans for crises and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance abuse, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders including AD/HD and eating disorders.

Targeting community groups, church members and those on the front lines of community service, Kokontis says training programs are already in place for local police officers, government, library and park district workers, and staff at several parochial schools including Nazareth Academy, St. Cletus, Divine Infant, St. Francis Xavier and St. John of the Cross.

“The goal is to raise awareness, make mental health first aid training available throughout the community, and help participants understand there is something we can all do to help,” explains Kokontis, who is among the first group of Mental Health First Aid instructors to complete training, representing a wide cross section of organizations including Pillars, Aging Care Connections, the Hinsdale Police department, Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Arab American Family Services, BEDS Plus Care., Inc., Narareth Academy, Robert Crown Center for Health Education, the LeaderShop, All Our Children’s Advocacy Center, Catholic Charities, NAMI Metro Suburban and NAMI DuPage.

Designed to function like a traditional first aid class, it is hoped the program will help reduce the stigma of mental illness by encouraging recognition, awareness and the same need for treatment as manifested by physical illness and complaints.

“As evidenced by this program, much can be accomplished through community partnership and the WSCCI is proud to be a regional partner in this initiative,” says Ken Grunke, West Suburban Chamber of Commerce & Industry executive director.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illness is believed to impact 20 percent of adults and children, nearly 57.7 million Americans, yet only one in five receive a diagnosis and treatment. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders can lead to substance abuse, relationship issues, failure in schools, loss of employment, and even death. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in those between the ages of 10 and 24, and 90 percent of children and teens who commit suicide suffer from a mental illness.

Spotlight On Member Nonprofit 501c3 Organizations

With missions from civic to service, fundraising to philanthropic, the West Suburban Chamber of Commerce & Industry partners with a variety of nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations to enhance community life. Among those member partner agencies leading the way to enhance health, education and community well-being are:

Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital Foundation
(708) 245-2902

Promotes philanthropy and good will for Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. Contributions to the Foundation support facility, equipment and service upgrades that enhance the delivery of quality patient care.

Aging Care Connections
(708) 354-1323

Connection to the most comprehensive, expert information, programs and services that enable older adults to remain independent and their families to make the best, most informed decisions regarding needed care in their lives.

American Cancer Society
(800) 227-2345

A nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem. Together with millions of supporters, the American Cancer Society (ACS) saves lives by helping people stay well and get well, by finding cures and by fighting back.

(708) 547-3550

Aspire was founded in 1960 and is recognized throughout Illinois as a leader in providing bold, pioneering and uncompromising services to children and adults with developmental disabilities, their families and the Chicagoland community. One of the most innovative human service nonprofits in the Midwest with an incredibly talented and dedicated staff team of more than 250, Aspire serves over 585 children and 320 adults every year.

(708) 354-0858

Helps homeless individuals obtain stable, affordable housing and provides a continuum of professional support services including emergency overnight shelter. Organization operates shelters and programs in west suburban Cook County, and service the homeless in the townships of Lyons, Stickney, Riverside, and a portion of Proviso.

Boy Scouts of America
(708) 315-6703

The Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation’s largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations. The BSA provides a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship and develops personal fitness.

Brookfield Zoo
(708) 688-8000

Home to more than 2,000 animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates, that can be seen in innovative and naturalistic exhibits. The zoo, which encompasses 216 acres in west suburban Brookfield, is managed by the Chicago Zoological Society, whose mission is to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature.

Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn
(708) 423-6709

Let’s explore and soar together! The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn leads the region in fun while learning opportunities that inspire imagination, creativity, and a life-long love of learning!

Community Memorial Foundation
(630) 654-4729

Dedicated to measurably improving the health of people who live and work in the western suburbs of Chicago. The Vision: The Foundation, together with the community, will transform the western suburbs of Chicago into the healthiest region in the country.

Community Nurse Health Center
(708) 352-0081

Provides integrated medical, dental and behavioral health care services, primarily to local, low-income and uninsured residents. Vision is a healthy and productive community where all have access to quality health care.

Community Support Services (CSS)
(708) 354-4547

Initiates, provides and promotes services for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities and their families, within their communities, in order to strengthen their independence, self-esteem, and ability to participate in and contribute to community life. CSS serves 57 communities and offers a variety of programs and services to address the needs of individuals across a broad spectrum of needs.

Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region
(630) 261-6240

The vision is that all children receive the developmental services they need to live their best life. From first screenings to specialized therapies, Easter Seals is a resource for all. A wide range of therapies and services are provided that help children build the skills and confidence they need for a brighter future.

Helping Hand Center
(708) 352-3580

Serves over 750 children and adults with developmental disabilities in suburban Cook County and greater Chicagoland communities. Offers a range of programs and services, including outpatient therapies, early intervention, a school for children with autism, high school transition, residential homes, employment services, adult day program, behavioral services, special recreation, and an aging program.

Illinois Masonic Children’s Homes
(708) 352-4240

Dedicated to providing a positive and safe living environment for the children served, IMCH is maintained by The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Illinois. In order to do this the Homes have developed a behavioral management program, which focuses on providing structure, routine, and consistency to meet the needs of our residents.

Interfaith Community Partners
(708) 579-8929

Interfaith Community Partners, a member of National Volunteer Caregiving Network, a coalition of caregiving communities throughout the nation, provides transportation and support for independent living. Originally formed to assist elderly neighbors, the organization helps seniors maintain their independence by accompanying care partners to medical appointments, therapies and assists with essential daily living errands.

(708) 354-5730

LADSE is a special education cooperative that collaborates with its member districts to provide high-quality, evidence-based programs and services that result in positive outcomes for students.

The LeaderShop
(708) 579-5898

Offers community-based programs and services designed to give youth the tools, confidence, and passion to want to make a difference in their communities and in their own lives. Focus on elementary through high school age youth.

The Hope Chest
(708) 482-0359

An upscale resale shop specializing in quality women’s and children’s clothing. Founded in 1994, The Hope Chest is a not-for-profit organization whose sole beneficiary is Pillars’ Constance Morris House (CMH). The Constance Morris House is a shelter for abused women and their children. The Hope Chest accepts donations of gently used women’s and children’s clothing, shoes, purses, jewelry and books. Item sales fund donations to the CMH and makes possible some of the many benefits provided for the shelter residents, such as free living quarters, meals, counseling, therapy, health care and advocacy.

Pets & Pals Charities
(847) 480-9500

Dedicated to promoting and supporting awareness of the value of animals in individuals lives and the special bonds that exists between kids and animals. This mission is accomplished via the acclaimed La Grange Pet Parade, providing educational scholarships for youth, and promoting responsible pet ownership through classes that show people how to care for their pets.

(708) 745-5277 (708.PILLARS)

The largest nonprofit provider of mental health and social services in Chicago’s western and southwestern suburbs, serving 12,000 people annually. Pillars’ services include mental health, child and family development, domestic and sexual violence, addictions, and community housing.

Plymouth Place
(708) 354-0340

A life care community, LaGrange Park, has been providing a full continuum of senior living and care options for seniors since 1944. The nonprofit community offers independent living apartments, assisted living apartments, memory support suites and skilled nursing care.

Robert Crown Center for Health Education
(630) 325-1900

RCC is the nation’s first health education center and the largest provider of health education for school-aged youth in the Chicago region. More than 90,000 students annually receive science-based programs on nutrition, sexual health, and substance abuse prevention from RCC professional health educators.

UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago
(708) 863-3803

Serving individuals with disabilities in metropolitan Chicago and beyond. UCP Seguin provides a pioneering, innovative, and inclusive approach to services for persons with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities, offering a unique array of programs and services: employment and life skills training for adults, community based residential homes, assistive and accessibility technology, transition services for young adults, home-based and family support and children’s foster care.

Wellness House
(630) 323-5150

Wellness House envisions a community where all people affected by cancer thrive. Offered at no cost, and as a complement to medical treatment, our programs educate, support and empower participants so they will improve their physical and emotional well-being.

(708) 352-7600

Committed to strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. With a focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, the Y nurtures the potential of every youth and teen, improves the nation’s health and well-being and provides opportunities to give back and support neighbors.

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