Balloons in a rainbow of colors, representing the county's school districts, floated into the blue sky Friday morning, marking the beginning of the second annual Children's Mental Health Awareness Day.

The balloon launch was held to symbolize the way the education system provides a safe haven for many children who have mental health issues, according to the event's organizer.

"The school is where the kids feel more comfortable at," explained Albert Antonelli, mental health program specialist for the Lawrence County Mental Health/Developmental Services.

Antonelli said representatives from many of the county's schools were on hand to help launch the balloons.

Held in conjunction with the Pennsylvania System of Care, the event was held at the Gettings Annex Building. Local mental health providers, consumers and supporters united for the gathering, which was designed to bring awareness to children's mental health issues.

"This is all about getting our voice out there and giving people the skills to help them advocate for themselves," said Lauren Gallaher of Value Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania, one of the service providers attending the event. "We want to help to get rid of the stigma related to mental health."

Following an 10:30 meet and greet, the balloon launch was held at 11 a.m. Participants in the event — around 120 people — then held an awareness walk from the Gettings building to East Washington Street, with many donning grass green shirts, which represented Children's Mental Health Awareness Month.

A program with the theme "Finding Help, Finding Hope" was held after lunch, during which speakers explored barriers and pathways to accessing behavioral health needs that support children, youth and young adults with mental and substance abuse disorders.

National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day was created in 2005 to shine the spotlight on the importance of children's mental health and reinforce that positive mental health is essential to a child's healthy development.

"I wish we could send up a balloon for every kid out there," Antonelli said. "This issue — it's something, that the younger you start, the better off you are. And when all the providers collaborate together, the better the services are."

(Email: jshelenberger@ncnewsonline.com)

Jessica Shelenberger is a former feature writer, city editor and assistant editor for The News. She taught writing and journalism courses at Westminster College.

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