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Howard County expanding 'It's OK to Ask' mental health outreach program

Howard County first launched its program three years ago after it learned suicide was the leading cause of death for 15-to-19-year-old.
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Posted at 4:03 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 15:00:22-04

COLUMBIA, Md. — It’s OK to ask.

Karsten Scherer has suffered from depression for decades. Talking about his issues gives him comfort.

Talking about issues dealing with depression and anxiety kept him alive, he says.

Scherer is a volunteer with the Howard County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

He joined health leaders as they announced they are expanding the county’s “It’s OK to Ask” Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Program.

“The first time I felt acutely suicidal I was in fourth grade," Scherer said. "What are we in fourth grade? Eight or nine? So, I was that age, and not a year went by until I was 45, and that was roughly four years ago where I didn’t seriously, at least once a year, consider killing myself,” Scherer said.

Howard County first launched its program three years ago after it learned suicide was the leading cause of death for 15-to-19-year-old.

COVID-19’s impacts have prompted it to expand outreach beyond just teens.

“This campaign raises awareness and reduces stigma associated with mental health and suicide across the lifespan, across races and ethnicity, across genders and across professions,” Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman said.

Using images and messages in a broad advertising campaign, Howard County will try to connect people who are suffering in silence with culturally-appropriate resources, giving them a voice in addressing their conditions.

After all, talking saves lives.

“What’s easy to forget in our general daily grind as just human beings in the world is that we do carry the cumulative weight of the last couple years in our bones,” Scherer said. "And so programs like this and investments like this and awareness like this and press conferences like this are more important than they ever have been.”