Breaking the Silence: Free mental health symposium at Temple

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Loretta Graham , who is on the symposium's advisory board, holds a copy of her book, The ABZ's of Sanity.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Loretta Graham , who is on the symposium's advisory board, holds a copy of her book, The ABZ's of Sanity.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes organized the first "Breaking the Silence" symposium in 1998.GALLERY: State Sen. Vincent Hughes organized…
Posted: April 03, 2014

EVEN if her fashion line was in deep financial trouble, to the outside world it seemed that L'Wren Scott had everything: a personal estate worth $9 million, a rock-star boyfriend, fame.

But who knows what demons Mick Jagger's girlfriend struggled with before hanging herself with a black silk scarf on a doorknob inside her posh New York City apartment last month? In hindsight, you'd think someone - Jagger maybe - would have sensed just how despondent Scott had become.

"She didn't just wake up that day and say, 'I'm going to kill myself,' " said Marcella Daniels, an organizer of a free mental-health conference that starts Friday called "Breaking the Silence on Mental Wellness: Real Talk. Real Help. Real Solutions."

Said Daniels, "It doesn't hit you until it happens, because you're not trained to look for it."

If you've ever had a deeply depressed friend or relative, you know how difficult it is to gauge the depth of someone's suffering. Or figure out what to do.

Are you totally off base to be concerned? Intruding into someone's personal life if you ask them what's wrong?

The tendency is to sit back and hope for the best rather than risk offending.

Even being aware and proactive, you can miss important signals.

The parents of Madison Holleran, the 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania freshman who jumped to her death earlier this year, were aware of her mental-health issues and had gotten her into treatment before her January suicide.

"People see things and they don't understand what they are looking at," Daniels said. "Her family has got to be feeling some kind of way. . . . "

Same thing with the relatives of two other Penn students who also killed themselves in recent months. Then there are incidents such as the one last month in which a pregnant mother tried to kill herself and her three children by driving her SUV into the Atlantic Ocean in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"A lot of people who are feeling bad feel bad in silence," said Guy Diamond, director of Drexel University's Center for Family Intervention Science, who will be leading a workshop at this weekend's event.

"The conference is an attempt to create more awareness and create more opportunities for people to come out and get support. "

No shame, just help

The first "Breaking the Silence" conference took place in 1998 and was geared toward African-Americans. State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Phila., modeled it after a program held in Harrisburg following the suicide of the Rev. Clyde Roach, a chaplain in the state House of Representatives.

"There was already a notion to do something," Hughes explained. "I saw that, and my response was to use it as a catalyst to keep moving forward. We all have folks in our network who need some kind of support at some level."

He added, "There's no shame in this game. Everybody's got issues. But there's also a lot of help."

This will be the fifth "Breaking the Silence" that Hughes has organized. It's expanded over the years to have a multicultural agenda, with workshops on everything from the Affordable Care Act to life after suffering a concussion.

Friday's is geared more toward professionals who consider caregiving as part of their job description. That isn't just nurses and doctors but beauticians and barbers, Daniels said.

After all, who hasn't unloaded a few things while getting their hair done?

Saturday's highlights include men-only sessions and one geared to single mothers raising sons on their own.

"We increased the number of workshops over the two days. We are well up over 100 workshops," Hughes pointed out. "We're really trying to make this for folks who are suffering but also for folks . . . who are trying to figure their way through everything."

One family's story

Loretta Graham, 63, of West Philly, will be among those taking notes. A mother of five, she found herself suddenly immersed in mental-health issues after her oldest son returned from Iraq with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Not long after that, she discovered that her husband had psychiatric problems of his own.

At the time, tension was high at their home, with food flying during one memorable incident. Graham coped by turning to her Catholic faith, retreating to her room at times and learning to set firm boundaries.

Things are better now, she said.

"Me, I had to learn compassion," Graham said. She self-published a book, The ABZ's of Sanity, to share her experiences caring for relatives with mental-health issues. "I had to learn not to be crazy in the midst of insanity."

Graham, who's on the advisory board for "Breaking the Silence," said, "Nobody wants to admit that they know or live with someone with mental illness."

"It's not anything to be ashamed of," she added. "It's like if you have cancer or you broke your toe. You don't have to hide. You don't have to be ashamed or embarrassed."


The free symposium "Breaking the Silence on Mental Wellness: Real Talk. Real Help. Real Solutions" will be held Friday and Saturday at Temple University's School of Medicine, 3500 N. Broad St. For more information, call 215-879-7777 or go to senatorhughes.com.


On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

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