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Susan Parmelee
Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

“There’s a virus spreading across America. It harms the one in five Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence. It prevents them from seeking help. And in some cases, it takes lives. What virus are we talking about? It’s stigma. Stigma against people with mental health conditions. But there’s good news. Stigma is 100 percent curable. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote. Your voice can spread the cure. Join NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Together we can #CureStigma.” This is the call-to-action on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website for May, Mental Health Awareness Month.

Ending the stigma of mental health is one of the main strategies in the Wellness & Prevention Center’s mission to help our youth lead healthy lives. People with mental health symptoms and diseases respond positively to social support, yet as a society we tend to hide these types of health issues for fear of criticism, derision or contempt. Some of the comments individuals with the diseases of mental health face include, “just try to be happy and you will be OK, you are just someone who cannot handle life,” and “if that person is mentally ill, they must be violent.”

NAMI is challenging the nation to participate in a “test” at This is an opportunity for a conversation within your family about how to help others who may be facing symptoms of mental illness.
This is a particularly important discussion for parents of teens because 75 percent of all chronic mental illnesses begin before the age of 24. Making sure our youth know they have a safe place to discuss emerging symptoms leads to early intervention and healthier futures.

I am often asked what signs and symptoms a loved one might be showing that may indicate mental health concerns. In adolescents and adults there are usually both emotional and behavioral changes that occur.
These can include excessive fear, worry or sadness, extreme mood changes, difficulty concentrating, lack of self-care, changes in sleeping habits, irritability or anger, avoiding activities they usually enjoy, changes in eating habits, difficulty in perceiving reality, inability to carry out daily activities, intense concern with appearance, physical ailments (headache, stomach ache), intense reactions to stressors, and thoughts about suicide.
In younger children you might observe changes in school performance, fighting to avoid bed or school, hyperactive behavior, frequent nightmares, frequent disobedience or aggression, and frequent temper tantrums. Visit for a more comprehensive list and additional resources.

A struggling friend or family member may refuse help. Don’t give up. Sometimes a person might respond after knowing you are consistently there for them. If this is a child, start with a visit to the pediatrician to get help and referrals. Being available and supportive to individuals facing chronic illness and their families is a priceless gift and one that helps in ensuring a stable and healthy future. The Wellness & Prevention Center, Family Assistance Ministries, local churches, and OCLinks (855.OC.Links, 855.625.4657) can provide referrals to mental health services in the San Clemente area.

Please plan on attending our final Teen Toolbox event for this school year on Monday, May 21 from 6:45-8:30 p.m. in the Little Theater at San Clemente High School. Our presenters Scott Peebles, M.A., M.F.C.C., and Katie Mann, L.C.S.W., will discuss healthy communication in the teen years. Adults and youth 12 and older are invited to attend.

The next Wellness & Prevention Coalition meeting is at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8 at the main office at 189 La Cuesta. RSVPs are appreciated.

 Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at

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