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Hartselle Enquirer

Chalk It Up: Breaking stigma of mental health with chalk drawings and messages

By Catherine Godbey

Written in a rainbow of colors, messages of hope, love, acceptance and understanding are adorning sidewalks and parking lots at area schools, nonprofit organizations and businesses.

Created by everyone from elementary school students to fitness instructors to bank executives, the chalk-drawn messages include the sayings “Tomorrow needs you,” “It’s OK to not be OK,” “You are not the only one,” “You don’t have to struggle in silence” and “You’re enough.”

“When people are going to and from the ballfields or shopping at stores or to the bank, we want them to see these messages on the sidewalk and feel uplifted and know talking about mental health is OK,” said Susan Claborn, director of the Mental Health Association in Morgan County.

To help spread that message, the Mental Health Association teamed with the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama and Decatur Morgan West to organize the Let’s Chalk About Mental Health initiative.

The outreach program, held in coordination with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, encourages individuals to decorate the community with positive messages and drawings.

“Not only are the messages good for people to see, the actual act of getting outside, being creative and doing a chalk drawing is good for your mental health,” Claborn said.

In Morgan County, the drawings and messages can be seen at schools, banks, parks, churches, fitness centers, insurance companies and nonprofit organizations. Morgan County Schools represents one of the most active participants in the initiative with schools in Eva, Lacey’s Spring, Danville, Trinity, Priceville and Falkville participating.

“I was so excited when we found out about Let’s Chalk About Mental Health,” said Janice Vest, a mental health service coordinator for Morgan County Schools. “This is a positive way to let the kids and parents in the community know how important it is to talk about mental health. The kids are really struggling right now. We need this.”

Vest hopes the chalk messages help ease the stigma surrounding mental health.

“In this day and age with social media, where the kids are seeing and hearing that they are not enough and that they need to be different and need to be better, these chalk messages are so very important,” Vest said. “This is important for their self-esteem and their mental health. This is one way we can show and tell them that we care about them.”

With the recent pandemic, which caused schools to go virtual, students, now more than ever, Vest said, need mental health support.

“COVID really set it off. A lot of kids stayed home, a lot are behind in their school work and some have failed. A lot of them started having anxiety about going back to school. There have been so many different, adverse effects from them being home,” Vest said. “We are seeing it at all levels. I’ve dealt with kids in first grade that are showing anxiety and stress.”

Claborn, who has served the past four years as director of the Mental Health Association, said the stigma surrounding mental health has decreased since the onset of COVID.

“There is still some stigma, but man, are we talking about it more. COVID really brought it to light. You have kids talking about it because of the experiences they have been through. And you have adults talking about it. Think about what health care workers have been through and about the business owners dealing with inflation and shortages. We all have been impacted, mental health-wise, in some way,” Claborn said.

For individuals dealing with mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, the Mental Health Association holds peer-led support groups every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and offers “Mood Crew” booklets that encourage families and children to talk about emotions. The nonprofit organization also provides financial assistance for mental health medication.

“People can usually find help for medicine for physical problems, such as diabetes and blood pressure. It is more difficult finding assistance for mental health medications because people, sadly, do not classify them as necessities,” Claborn said. For more information, visit mhainmc.net.

Along with Let’s Chalk About Mental Health, Morgan County Schools recognized Mental Health Awareness Month with a Mental Health Fun Walk and Wellness Fair on Saturday. The event included a color blast run, bubble wars, music, games and calming exercises.

“We wanted to make this a fun event so that people would associate mental health with fun instead of something that you shouldn’t talk about it,” Vest said. “Since it has become such an issue for so many people, we need to make it normal to talk about. Everybody will experience some kind of mental health-type issue, whether it be stress or anxiety, at some point.”

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