Panel to Address ‘Disrupting the Stigma’ of Mental Health Issues at Free Dinner and Forum

In 2021, State Rep. Leonard Mirra presentsed Purple Heart recipient Donald Jarvis a House citation signed by all for of the city's representatives. (WHAV News photograph.)

The recent pandemic has lately raised awareness of mental health issues, but a local veteran says it is a longstanding, but largely hidden problem. He has formed a committee to present an event next month aimed at “Disrupting the Stigma.”

Haverhill veterans’ advocate Donald R. Jarvis says the matter is also a personal one.

“There is a stigma around mental health that needs to go away. I am actively involved in mental health and I have been getting treated for mental health for a long time now. I’d like to encourage others to do the same. So, let’s have a discussion about that—get rid of the stigma. Let’s talk about suicide prevention and some of the resources out there to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally,” he explains.

Speaking to listeners of WHAV’s “Win for Breakfast” program, Jarvis says the committee plans a free community discussion on mental health” with mental health professionals, counselors, law enforcement, community leaders and others for a frank discussion of mental health and suicide. Jarvis wants people to recognize the red flags and where to turn for support and resources.

The event will also address the impact of mental health on different populations, including youth, veterans and individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Jarvis likewise sought help when he came home after serving in Iraq War in 2008.

“War can be traumatic, depending on your experiences, and mine was. I was on the front line looking for bombs, seeing bombs go off and seeing a lot of things that we shouldn’t be seeing. I was a mess. I had a huge drinking problem. My life was spiraling out of control and I think it was after a failed relationship and really going on a bad path that I said need to address this before it gets worse. So, ever since then I’ve been involved in mental health in some capacity,” he says.

He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and in 2014 found comfort from a service dog named Mocha.

“That service dog was to help me with my mental health. That was the real foundation of that. My PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is not just unique to the military. You can be a non-military member and have post-traumatic stress. That’s also part of depression and anxiety. I encourage service dogs, but the service dog is an indicator that I had mental health I needed to work through. We all do in some capacity and this event that I am hosting on May 12 is to identify that we all—all of us, whether it’d be children, adults, seniors, veterans or other demographics—have some sort of mental health that we need to address,” he says.

Jarvis now works as the veteran services officer in Billerica.

The free program begins with a pasta dinner Friday, May 12, from 5-7:30 p.m., at AmVets, Post 147, 576 Primrose St., Haverhill.

For the past 74 years, the month of May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness month, and is supported by numerous groups including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Hospital Association and federal government Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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