BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Dr. Sherilyn Garner knows what it’s like to be an adolescent struggling with a mental health issue and not knowing how to handle it. That’s why she created A Friend of Mind.
When Garner was 15 years old, she attempted suicide and was diagnosed with depression. Living in rural Alabama, she said had no access to treatment beyond a mandatory 10-day stay at a behavioral facility. So for the next 11 years, she lived with depression that went untreated.
That changed when Garner moved to Birmingham, where she started seeing a counselor, doing yoga and practicing mindfulness.
“I just remember feeling so relieved and being so excited about having this positive coping mechanism that helped me feel good,” Garner said. “It really got rid of my blues.”
In 2018, as part of an Albert Schweitzer fellowship, Garner started a yoga and mindfulness program for kids in the Marks Village housing community. When the fellowship ended, she created A Friend of Mind and expanded the program to other housing communities throughout Birmingham.
“There are so many adolescents out there who are just struggling and battling all of these emotions that they don’t know how to describe, let alone cope with,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated those emotions as kids have missed out on time with friends. It’s also made it more difficult for Garner to reach them. She’s offered her programs virtually, but many of the kids don’t have the technology necessary to participate.
“Not being able to connect to their friends at school and not being able to connect to us in extracurricular ways just has really been depressing for a lot of adolescents,” Garner said.
She hopes to start offering the programs in person again once it’s safe to do so, but she worries that she’ll essentially have to start over with many of the kids and rebuild their trust.
“They don’t quite understand that because of COVID, we can’t come offer these classes in person,” she said. “They know that: hey, this activity that I enjoy, this outlet that I was able to express myself and connect with others, it has been ripped away from me, and I don’t know how to cope with that.”
In the meantime, Garner suggests parents be aware of certain warning signs of depression or others issues in their children.
“Watching out for any signs of abnormal behavior – that could be a sign that something is wrong or something is bothering that child,” she said. “And it’s a matter of that parent asking the child, ‘are you okay?'”
A Friend of Mind also offers suicide prevention training and support groups for adults.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. On Thursday night, CBS 42 will air a special, “Mental Health Matters,” with stories of other organizations like A Friend of Mine throughout central Alabama that are helping people work through mental health issues.
The special airs at 6:30 p.m. on CBS 42.
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