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Tahlequah Daily Press - 5/12/2018

May 12--PARENTS WANT THEIR children to be healthy and happy, and while physical well-being is important, good mental health is just as important.

Cherokee Nation's HERO Project, the tribe's Children's Behavioral Health unit, hosted on Friday a Children's Mental Health Awareness Day at One Fire Field, where visitors participated in an assortment of kid-friendly games and activities.

This is the fourth year the HERO Project has staged the event, aiming to bring awareness to the community about available resources in Tahlequah.

"We specifically emphasize children, because a lot of times, parents maybe aren't aware of what services there are, or maybe they're having issues with their children and they're not really sure what to do," said Juli Skinner, associate director of HERO Project. "This is a way to gather all of these resources we have in one space for our families, regarding children's mental health."

Like any other aspect of a child's upbringing, the sooner problems are addressed, the sooner solutions are found. Skinner said even a baby can suffer from depression, and people might not realize that.

"Parents may not know that at Hastings Hospital, we're doing social emotional screenings from [ages] birth to 5, so they can chart how a child is doing socially and emotionally, as well as physically," she said. "Then if there are problems, we know through research that you can change the trajectory much easier and sooner when we get involved early."

Several organizations participated in the

event, including CREOKS Behavioral Health Services, Grand Lake Mental Health Center, Ki Bois Head Start, and Oklahoma Fosters. One nonprofit organization brought along small horses: Little Cherokee Horses miniature equine therapy.

Little Cherokee Horses is a free service to anyone who needs it, helping people improve their social, emotional or cognitive functioning by spending time with therapy horses. C. Lei Guthrie said the organization was begun after it became apparent how the animals benefited her father.

"My dad has this movement disorder and he was having seizures a lot," said Guthrie. "Then we started realizing what a good impact it had, because he got around some of these miniatures and it washed away a lot of his symptoms. They help both my dad and my daughter, Chloe, with their movements. She gets around good. She's like a butterfly now."

Little Cherokee Horses can bring their animals to elders, the handicapped and children. Guthrie said spending time with the miniature horses is safe and can relax those dealing with anxiety.

"They're really good around walkers and wheelchairs, because we've had them exposed to walkers and wheelchairs," she said. "They're very gentle. They mostly want to know what you've got in your pocket."

The event was superhero-themed, as participants ran around in Superman and Spiderman costumes. Kids could make their own masks to hide their identities as they played various games, or they visited Batman, who was running a cotton candy machine.

Alec Peyton brought his son James to the superhero party. The boy dashed through the obstacle course and played on the large, superhero inflatable slides.

"Well, he loves superheroes, so that's originally why I wanted to bring him," said Peyton. "Then I actually read that it was for children's mental health, and I figured this would actually be good for his mental health. Having a good time and spending your day with your heroes is good for a kid's brain, right?"

The more mental health is discussed, the more aware parents might be about their children's problems. Resources are available for parents who believe their child is dealing with a mental health issue, and Skinner said parents should not be afraid to seek help.

"The rate of teen depression is on the rise," said Skinner. "It's like an illness that people are afraid to talk about. If you're afraid to talk about it, how are you going to treat it?"


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