Reporting Aside

November 24, 2013

Public, community leaders bring light to mental health, victim advocacy

Randall Liberty and Karen Heck are among those who have recently publically stood up for those who need help from their communities.

I’m thankful I live in a community where people take care of each other, watch out for their neighbors and offer services to those in need.

I also am thankful that we have thoughtful leaders who take the time to stop what they are doing, publicly highlight serious problems affecting our communities and tell us what we can do to help.

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty took a bold and brave move by being the subject of a documentary on MPBN television about post traumatic stress syndrome in the military. Having experienced post-traumatic stress disorder himself and knowing its devastating effects, he shared his story as a way to help others. He also took action by starting a special veterans unit in his jail.

It is a moving and compelling documentary and one that, I am sure, will serve to save lives.

When someone who is as respected as Liberty and holds such a prominent public office is willing to come forward and publicly announce that he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, that he received therapy for it and is much better, it sends a big message to people suffering in silence that there is hope for them, too.

Liberty shows us that there should be no stigma attached to seeking help. On the contrary, when someone has difficulties and gets help, that shows strength and courage.

And then there’s Waterville Mayor Karen Heck.

Heck on Tuesday opened the City Council meeting by referring to a very public and disturbing incident that had occurred the evening before in the city’s downtown.

A woman died when she hanged herself outside her second-story apartment window, to the horror of people on the sidewalk.

Heck told the 30 or so people at the City Council meeting that the incident speaks to the critical need for mental health services in the community and for all of us to be aware that there is a great need for those services.

Lend an ear when people need to talk, Heck urged. Be compassionate. Help them get connected to services, if warranted.

Mental health is as important as physical health, she said.

A week prior, Heck attended the Waterville Veterans Day parade organized by Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5.

Legion Commander Ernie Paradis gave a speech after the parade that focused on the number suicides and sexual assaults occurring in the military. Aside from our responsibility to work toward preventing both, we must help those affected, he said.

Paradis issued a loud and clear message that his organization is there to help veterans get the help and support they need and deserve.

Heck and Liberty attended a news conference Monday at the Waterville Police Department where the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center announced its Children’s Advocacy Center of Kennebec & Somerset Counties received national accreditation. The center, based in Waterville, is child-focused and includes law enforcement, medical and mental health officials, as well as representatives from the district attorney’s office. All the people involved in investigating and prosecuting child sex abuse cases and making sure the victims get the help and treatment they need work together on the cases, making it a more effective and efficient process and putting the children’s interests first.

The center’s literature said children who are sexually abused often don’t tell anyone.

What better way to give children a message that is it OK to ask for help than to have community leaders say so publicly?

And how better to issue a reminder that each one of us has the power to make a difference in someone’s life by lending a hand?

It can be as simple as listening to someone’s story, reassuring him or her that help is available and making a phone call, if warranted.

We’re lucky to live in a place where role models teach compassion, not avoidance.

This Thanksgiving, we can be particularly grateful for that.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com

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