By Doris Sanders
In our everyday lives, most of us never have the privilege of candid, plain-spoken discussions on such topics as “The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Adult Health and Wellness” and “The Stigma of Mental Illness Before, During and After Incarceration.” It is through open dialogue in a safe environment that sensitive topics such as these can be understood and addressed.
The “Rotarians for Mental Health” coalition, of which Denver Cherry Creek Rotary Club is a member, provides an opportunity for such conversations to take place. Each year, the coalition presents an annual Mental Health Symposium and Expo, open to the public and associated with the Colorado State of the State event.
I attended the presentations on the two topics mentioned above. The audience at both presentations was engaged and asked many personal, revealing questions. The presenters were knowledgeable and welcoming.
In the “Incarceration” talk, the presenter, Mr. Hassan Latif, mentioned that between him and his colleagues in the room, they had 74 years of incarceration. Mr. Latif is the Executive Director of Second Chance Center, Inc., whose mission is to help formerly incarcerated people transition to lives of success and fulfillment. One member of the audience revealed that he, too, had been incarcerated. From the looks of surprise on the faces of the people he was sitting with, I felt sure they did not know that. However, the unembellished truths told by Mr. Latif and his colleague, Dana, about their lives encouraged this man to disclose his experiences with prison, which he said he had never publicly shared before.
The “Childhood Sexual Abuse” discussion had the same feeling of openness. Participants talked openly about experiences from their childhoods, and the impact on their adult lives. Other members of the audience chimed in, and the dialogue was skillfully facilitated by the presenter, Ms. Jenny Stith, Executive Director of the WINGS Foundation. It offers counseling and other forms of assistance to survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Lots of networking took place after each of these sessions. I noticed people from both sessions were exchanging contact information and setting up times to get together. That may be one of the most valuable aspects of the Symposium
Other 2018 topics covered such subjects, among others, as “Substance Use and the Developing Brain,” “The Opioid Crisis and a Medication Take-back Initiative,” and “Improving Mental Wellness in Schools.” The keynote speaker for the luncheon, Ms. Molly Bloom, was an Olympian-class skier who received a debilitating back injury while skiing. She later ended up running an illegal but high-profile gambling ring in Los Angeles. That story, and what happened after the FBI shut her down, held the audience’s attention!
Each year, the Rotarians for Mental Health sponsor such a symposium. I encourage all Rotarians to attend, and to invite a friend or two.