OAKLAND, N.J. – In the past four years, at least five Oakland young people have died from drug overdoses or suicide, according to resident Caron McCormick.
“I have a daughter who is 13, a son who is 11, and I am thinking I am going to be sitting at that 8th grade graduation and wondering, ‘Which one of these kids isn’t going to be here in four years?’” said McCormick, co-founder of a borough-wide initiative to focus on mental health.
“It just can’t continue at this rate,” she told Daily Voice.
In August, McCormick and Oakland Recreation Commission Chairman Mike Guadagnino founded Let’s Talk Oakland.
By bringing people together from different facets of the town – such as the recreation program, schools, government, businesses and houses of worship – they hope to be able to identify and help people who may be suffering with mental health issues before they get to the stage of heroin use or contemplating suicide.
Guadagnino said over the roughly 15 years he has been coaching in Oakland, he and others have worked with young kids and “we knew there were issues there, but we had no outlet, nowhere to give them support, and unfortunately some of those kids are part of the statistics.”
“If we could have done something to create this bank of resources, or avenues to help them, a way to identify them, and offer that help, some of them might be around today,” Guadagnino said. “So that is what we are trying to do with the next generation.”
Let’s Talk Oakland is on a mission to raise awareness about mental health and show that there should not be a stigma around it. And the group is also trying to do that in a positive way by discussing things like nutrition, exercise, and using art and meditation to relieve stress.
In October, the group initiated an Inside Out Day, where people throughout the borough wore their clothes inside out to raise mental health awareness. The group is also planning further outreach. The recreation football players will be wearing Let’s Talk Oakland stickers on their helmets, and parents will receive information on mental health when they sign their children up to play.
On March 25, from 8 a.m. to noon, the group is hosting a Spring Cleanse event next to borough hall. People will be able to shred documents for free, and receive information on mental health.