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Starting the Conversation on Mental Health

One in four adults has a diagnosed mental illness. 2/3 of those diagnosed are not seeking help. The numbers are staggering and yet, as a society, we aren't talking about mental health. David Romano is trying to change that.

Raising awareness about mental health is Romano's life passion. A proud Minnesota native and mental health speaker, he is dedicated to fighting mental health stigma and engaging with communities around the country to change the conversation about mental health. He recently spoke to area students and community members about his journey with depression including the dark lows of self-injury and a suicide attempt during high school, and his ongoing path to recovery.

When Romano began to feel the early symptoms of depression in middle school, he thought everyone felt that way, and that it was part of growing up; but when he reached tenth grade and depression turned into a sense of darkness enveloping him, David assumed that he was failing everyone, including himself, and that he wasn't the man he was supposed to be. The popular student and multi-sport athlete tried to maintain his outward image as the fun, goofy kid, and used sports and other activities to cover his inner struggle.

"I pretended that everything was OK," said Romano. "I felt like I was the only one struggling and in pain but I didn't want to let anyone know. I thought it was a sign of weakness to ask for help. If there's one message I can get across it's that it's OK to not be OK. It isn't a weakness to ask for help."

A mental health check-list he read in health class shone a light on his symptoms, and he began a treatment plan under the care of a professional; after some ups and downs, he found the right combination of medication and therapy, and has focused his energies on self-healing and spreading awareness about mental health and suicide prevention.

"I continue to work every day to take care of myself," said Romano. "Because I finally reached out for help, I have support and found coping skills that made a difference for me."

Romano's presentations for our students and community were made possible by the Duck Cup Memorial Committee, a group of New Prague alumni that lost a close friend to suicide after high school. The committee is dedicated to bringing awareness to the issues of mental illness and suicide prevention.

Romano answered the following questions from teachers, parents and students:

Q) Did you have teachers that connected with you?
A) Reaching out is a powerful thing. I had a professor that always said "If you ever want to talk, I'm here." I went back to her awhile later and that conversation was what I needed; by simply listening she gave me hope that everything was going to be okay. Kids might not reach back right away but let them know that you care. They will remember that.

Q) What can we as parents do?
A) Talk to your kids. Talk about what depression is and that's its OK if they are struggling. Help them open up. I didn't want to burden my family with my issues so I pushed them away. They took that as I needed space so they left me alone. I took that as they didn't want me.

Q) What can you do if you suspect that a friend or family member is struggling?
A) Keep planting the seed. Continue to let them know that you are there if they ever need to talk. Sometimes these conversations are awkward but they are so important. Be empathetic. It takes compassion and patience because they have to get help in their time. It only takes one person, one small gesture. Be that person for someone.

Duck Cup Memorial CommitteeMental health resources are also available on our website at: www.npaschools.org/high-school/mental-health-information.

Thanks to the Duck Cup Memorial Committee for sponsoring this mental health presentation and helping start the conversation in our schools and communities. Committee members are: Bryan Connelly, Dave Hruby, Eric Ceplecha, Brian Jindra, Jon Frykmann and Nick Deutsch. The annual Duck Cup Memorial Golf Tournament will be held on July 28, 2018 at Creeks Bend Golf Course. All proceeds are used to fund local suicide prevention and awareness programs. More information can be found on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/duckcupmemorial. Donations to the Duck Cup Memorial can be sent to PO Box 162, New Prague, MN 56071.