The Rapidian

Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy Builds in Heartside

As a response to community need for mental health resources, education opportunities take aim at reducing stigma in the heart of Grand Rapids.
The Mental Health First Aid cohort from Heartside poses for a photo upon completing the second session of training last month.

The Mental Health First Aid cohort from Heartside poses for a photo upon completing the second session of training last month.

Underwriting support from:
Candice Sloop, one of the facilitators from Be Nice, walks the Heartside cohort through the training's action plan.

Candice Sloop, one of the facilitators from Be Nice, walks the Heartside cohort through the training's action plan.

Street signage outside of 106 S. Division informs Heartside passerby of community events. If you see the sign, stop by!

Street signage outside of 106 S. Division informs Heartside passerby of community events. If you see the sign, stop by!

Learn. Learn, learn, the symptoms, learn how to help the person to work through their recovery,” advises Doreen Timmers, a Heartside resident and mental health advocate. Timmers sees a healthy community as one where residents are knowledgeable about mental health and are a resource of support for one another. Her message is representative of the hopes that residents have demanded for the future of Heartside. 

This summer, as a response to the voices of residents who participated in the Heartside Quality of Life Study, Dwelling Place invited the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan to facilitate a free certification class for the nationally utilized Mental Health First Aid Training. Attendees were also educated on mental health using the Foundation’s own Be Nice initiative. The 8 hour training, divided into two four-hour sessions, was held on July 24th and 31st at 106 Division Avenue South, located in the center of the Heartside neighborhood. The goal of the trainings is to reduce stigma related to mental health through educating and changing perspectives, and the training was made possible due to grant funding specifically designed to train Heartside residents and staff who work in the neighborhood. Representatives from Degage, Guiding Light, the City, the Public Library, the Heartside-Downtown Neighborhood Association, GRPD, and staff from other private businesses attended the training alongside residents of the neighborhood.

Kate Meengs, a Mental Health Foundation program coordinator and one of the instructors who led the trainings, describes the connection between knowledge and action. “With knowledge comes confidence and with confidence comes action. The importance of having that base knowledge, is it is less intimidating if you feel like you can make a difference or you can help if you have more understanding.” The training teaches a plan of action using the acronym NICE: Notice the signs and symptoms, Invite yourself to talk with the person displaying a change in their mental health, Challenge the person to get help, Empower yourself with protective strategies for your own mental health. Kate explains, “It also helps decrease stigma too, just helping to get people more educated and more aware. I think people leave this class feeling more empowered to be a mental health advocate” 

 The training highlights that mental health applies to everyone. Meengs comments on this aspect of the training saying, “Your mental health can change every single day and so many things are affecting it all the time. The conversations we have around physical health are all the time, so if we as a culture can shift towards that in terms of mental health then when people are struggling, when people are dealing with that label of having an illness or being sick, it becomes more normalized so that people are talking about it and are not defined by that sickness.” Some of the discussions during the training reflect issues based in mental health such as substance use. Factors like substance use and stigma combined with the lack of mental health resources bring to light the particular difficulties the Heartside community experiences.

Doreen Timmers attended the Mental Health First Aid Training and has hope for Heartside and the positive impact mental health awareness can have. “I would like to see it impact the community in a way that it reduces some of the stigma that is out there because a lot of times you hear mentally ill people are violent. No they're not. Most of the time your mentally ill people are selfless because they give more of themselves than they realized they should be giving.”

As a resident, Timmers has first hand experience with the obstacles residents face and is using her knowledge of mental health to confidently take action. Responding to the needs of her neighborhood, Timmers is providing a community resource she co-created called Aspire Academy

“Aspire Academy is basically teaching people the signs and symptoms of depression and how to deal with them and to help people get further along in their recovery,” describes Doreen.  “Every class we teach deals with some aspect of helping the student learn what they can change to better themselves or it can help someone who is trying to help someone with mental health to see what is going on and maybe help them change that.'' The classes Aspire Academy offers are: Fear Forgiveness and Boundaries, Feeling Depression, Parenting with Depression, and Studio Art. Email [email protected] or  [email protected] for more detials about Aspire Academy! 

With a mission to improve the lives of people by creating quality affordable housing, providing essential support services and serving as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place serves families and people in 4 counties across West Michigan. Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers and numerous staff persons, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Thanks to Anthony Hanline for his contribution of this article.

 

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.

Browse