Loudoun libraries host programs on mental health awareness

Audry Birch's "Hidden Thoughts," from a gallery of artistic submissions to the Ryan Bartle Foundation, which is dedicated to to preventing youth suicide through educational programs and activities. Courtesy Photo,

Mental illness is prevalent and it is all around us. The chances are high that most people know someone who is currently battling a mental health disorder.

In May, Mental Health Awareness Month activities in Loudoun aim to reach audiences of all ages and address all aspects of mental illness.

The Loudoun County Public Library System has organized 14 events throughout the month to encourage people to learn, connect and talk about their personal stories and experiences.

Suzie Bartel, co-founder of the group The Ryan Bartel Foundation, will be participating in an event at the Purcellville Library at 2 p.m. May 21. The discussion will focus on "What our teens are talking about" and will provide parents with "practical skills for coping discussions."

Bartel's son Ryan died in 2014, and she started the foundation to help other families dealing with similar struggles with mental illness.

"By empowering our youth to speak openly about a topic that plagues a larger population than anyone realizes, we're able to show those who struggle privately they are not alone, and that it's OK to reach out for help," Bartel said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness affiliate for Northern Virginia will be bringing their "In Our Own Voice" education program to the Rust and Cascades libraries. It is a 90-minute program featuring two NAMI-trained presenters who will share their hopeful journeys about living with a mental health condition and maintaining wellness.

Another Loudoun-based nonprofit organization, This is My Brave Inc., has a national reach in their mission of ending the stigma surrounding mental illness through creative storytelling productions.

This May, they are holding theater performances in five cities across the United States, with a show in the Washington, D.C. area May 15 at the Spectrum Theater in Arlington, Va.

"The amazing thing about This Is My Brave is how it helps eliminate the fear of talking openly about mental illness. Our storytellers use their art - poetry, original music and personal essay - to explain what they have been through so that people can understand the depth of these conditions and how they affect individuals. Our shows help society understand that so many people are touched by mental illness and by sharing our stories we can provide hope and encouragement and can even save lives," says This is My Brave Executive Director and co-founder Jennifer Marshall.

Providing A message of hope

A packed auditorium at Loudoun Valley High School recently experienced a show by the Same Sky Project. The group provides therapeutic arts to help young people face and overcome challenges. They will perform again at 2 p.m. May 28 at Rust Library.

The inspirational show left the audience moved by the messages of hope from each performer's struggles in life.

"Every day I put on a mask, pretending I was fine but I wasn't. We all have a story we are all scared to tell. I realized I am not alone. I now have hope, something I did not have before," sang Kayse Umbaugh, who suffers from depression.

Amy Stone, who has cerebral palsy, said her life has "always been a challenge. I love this project because it has become my normal. A lot of people have inspired me to be who I am today and to always have hope. I carry that message. I still live and go through the same things. Sometimes in life you will get knocked down, you will have challenges, but it is how you handle them that will help you go forward," Stone told the crowd.

Program Highlights:

Meet the Author:

May 5: Teens meet the author of "Thicker than Water," a dark, harrowing look into drug addiction. 6 p.m., Gum Spring Library.

May 7: Meet the author of "The Upside of Your Dark Side," explaining why emotions such as anger, anxiety and sadness can be incredibly useful in helping reach your potential. 2 p.m., Cascades Library.

May 8: Mediation for Health. Relax and learn how meditation can relieve stress. 2 p.m. Gum Spring Library.

May 10: Raising Children with Positive Self Esteem: A Protection against anxiety and depression. 7 p.m., Gum Spring Library.

May 15: Coping with Grief and Loss. 2 p.m., Cascades Library.

May 21: What Our Teens are Talking About. Practical conversations about coping. 2 p.m. Purcellville Library.

May 22: Meet the author of "A Ladder in the Dark," about how bullying impacted him and how he overcame it. 2 p.m., Ashburn Library.

May 26: Anxiety Disorders. 5:30 p.m., Rust Library.

May 28: Same Sky Project performed by A Place to Be. Original theatrical production by brave young people who struggle and triumph over their challenges daily. 2 p.m., Rust Library.

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