LIHU‘E — They didn’t have things like this when we were growing up, said William Arakaki, the Kaua‘i Area Complex Superintendent for the state’s Department of Education Saturday at the Mental Health Fair at Kukui Grove.
Arakaki joined Beth Tokioka, representing Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., and leaders of the various agencies and coalitions involved with mental health, in declaring May as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month.
Coordinated by Friendship House, the Saturday event at Kukui Grove Center celebrated Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day and was geared to increase public awareness about mental illness, reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems and identify treatment and support services available in Kaua‘i’s communities.
It is vital that our youth, their families, and the community learn about the warning signs of emotional and behavioral challenges leading to suicide, states the mayor’s proclamation celebrating May 26 as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.
“Many children and youth have mental health challenges which are often painful and severe,” said Tokioka in reading the mayor’s proclamation.
“Awareness of these difficulties followed by immediate access to support can result in successful treatment, improved relationships, better grades and enhanced health.”
A volunteer collecting food for the credit unions on behalf of the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank at Kmart said her daughter had a mental disorder and lived through the stigma of her illness.
She said her daughter met another girl while playing soccer and after discussions discovered the acquaintance also had an issue based on symptoms, leading the girl to receive treatments that were effective in controlling her issues.
Tokioka said the county, in support of these programs, had several agencies joining with Friendship House and Hawai‘i Families as Allies offering information, support and help, the effort punctuated with entertainment coordinated by Friendship House, including Laurie Williams whom Dave Jordan of Friendship House said has several CDs recorded and does small gigs around town.
Crystal Aguinaldo, recognized during the 2012 Consumer, Family and Youth Alliance Mental Health Conference Thursday at Kaua‘i Community College, was on hand with several Friendship House members, lending her support to the program.
“In addition to working in the mental health field, I volunteer in many community events including Friendship House,” Aguinaldo said in an email. “I also help our mental help hui which was established in 2009 and only recently received our 501(c)3 nonprofit status.”
Aguinaldo, whose work in mental health earned her the 2012 Adult, Consumer Advocate award, said there are currently 25 members in the hui, and it’s growing.
“I hope our hui will go national one day because it is effective to have family members involved and educated when a loved one has a mental illness,” she said. “Personally speaking, having the support of my dad and a strong support system of care providers and friends has done wonders for my recovery and brought out the best in me.”
Aguinaldo said she will be attending Kaua‘i Community College in the fall in pursuit of getting certified in substance abuse, offered at KCC through the University of Hawai‘i-Hilo.
Aguinaldo will take advantage of the distance learning program, whereby her work will be done through television.
Tokioka said the Saturday Children’s mental Health Awareness Day event celebrates the island’s courageous children, youth and their families who continue to thrive in the community while coping with or recovering from emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.