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The Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County (MHA) is hosting four Community Conversations as part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health for Creating Community Solutions. Called “Palm Beach County Speaks: Breaking the Connection between Mental Illness and the Legal System,” the organizers are particularly interested in the connection points for youth mental health issues.

“MHA is eager to gather input from the diverse population groups in the county and are hoping to attract members of the LGBT community and their supporters to participate,” said Pamela Gionfridda, CEO of the MHA.

“We recognize that gay youth have unique mental health issues caused by discrimination and isolation – often starting very young and in the home,” she added. “We are pleased that Compass will be there and hope other LGBT groups and individuals will join us as well.”

“We will definitely be there,” said Hugo Rocchia, RAWI, Mental Health Therapist for Compass gay and lesbian community center. “It’s important for the community at large to have information on gay youth and adults who often experience mental health issues caused by isolation and oppression.”

The four sessions will be held in West Palm Beach on Jan. 24 from noon to 2 p.m. at Quantum Foundation, 2701 N Australian Avenue; Feb 4 from noon to 2 p.m. in Belle Glade at Palm Beach State College, 1977 College Drive (Room TEC 109); in Jupiter on Feb 28 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Southeast FL Behavioral Health Network, 140 Intracoastal Pointe; and Mar 29 in Delray Beach at the Delray Beach Public Library at100 West Atlantic Ave.

The conversations will culminate with the #OK2Talk Palm Beach County Conference on Apr 25 from 9 a.m. to noon at a location to be announced. The featured speaker will be Paolo del Vecchio, Director of the Center for Mental Health Services at SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services His talk will be followed by a panel of local policy leaders discussing the findings, community solutions and creating action plan formulated thorough out the series.

According to Gionfriddo, the program was an outcome from the Sandy Hook School shootings that happened over a year ago. The Obama administration tasked SAMHSA to provide support to communities that would engage in a dialogue on issues that need to be addressed to avoid future events of this kind.

“Of course, they didn’t provide funding to support these programs,” Gionfriddo said. “In fact, $46 billion in funding was cut from mental health by the federal government last year. And Florida is number 49 in the nation for funding mental health programs.”

“So we were lucky to find local support,” she added.

Major sponsors as of this writing are: Southeast Behavioral Health Network, Quantum Foundation, McGlaughlin & Stern, Palm Health Care Foundation and Our Health Policy Matters.

Admission is free and event is open to the public. Refreshments will be provided so organizers are requesting participants register for each session in advance.

“We look forward to hearing from as many groups and people as possible,” Gionfriddo said. We want people to tell their stories and share experiences so we can watch for county-wide and local trends,” she added.

For more information, to register or to investigate sponsorship opportunities call 561-832-3755 or visit www.mhapbc.org.