Writer  /  Suzanne Huntzinger

As Hamilton Southeastern Schools and the Peyton Riekhof Foundation for Youth Hope prepares to put on its third annual Mental Health Awareness and Education Program, they have a renewed focus and energy.

Powered by a newly formed Fishers Mental Health Task Force, the Fishers community has a potent weapon in the fight to end suicides. After riding with police officers one day, Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness asked law enforcement officials what they felt was the biggest challenge or problem they faced.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 10.12.33 AMThe number one recurring issue was figuring out how to have the resources to serve people with mental illness and substance use disorder. It was then that Fadness decided to build a team of experts to tackle the issue. To round out his dream team, Mayor Fadness brought in public safety leaders, school administrators, faith-based organizations, government leaders and healthcare organizations like Community Health Network. Meeting monthly, the task force has identified the community’s needs and issues and are now ready to take action.

In the past year, the task force has worked hard to do things like establish a mental health training program for use in all Fishers public safety departments, established a follow-up care protocol for mental health patients and create a community wide communications campaign to bring awareness to the issue and lessen the stigma surrounding it.

Though the task force works together as a team, Suzanne Clifford, Vice President of Integrated Primary Care for Community Health Network, credits one team member for his special place in the group. “Mike Riekhof is really the heart of our team. He’s had a tragedy in his life, but he’s used it to save other kids,” Clifford explains.

Riekhof lost his 18-year-old daughter, Peyton, in July 2013 to depression and has vowed ever since to help prevent suicide. “Do I like that I have a story? No, absolutely not. I wish I didn’t have a story. But if I can use my story to help others and warn others in the community, that’s my mission in life,” Riekhof says.

Saving lives and improving lives is the goal of both the Fishers Mental Health Task Force and Community Health Network’s initiative. “If one child, one spouse or one friend can be saved, then this is all worth it,” Clifford adds.

To that end, The Peyton Riekhof Foundation for Youth Hope along with HSE Parents in Partnership have announced their third annual mental health awareness program for hope, help and community. Mother-daughter team Sarah and Karen Wood are this year’s special guests. They present “A Story of Hope: A Family’s Journey Through Depression” Monday, March 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fishers High School Auditorium. The program is free to everyone in the community.

Following the Wood’s compelling story, an expert panel is on hand for a discussion and question and answer session. Also available are 15 different mental health organizations. Their tables will be open with staff available to answer questions and provide resources before and after the program.

The 2014 and 2015 programs were very successful with packed houses for the presentation by Canadian comedian Kevin Breel who shared his story of his experience with depression. Please come out, show your support and help us raise awareness and save lives.

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