‘Greatest of All Time’ youth mental health expo is in Maryland this weekend

Mental health continues to be a big priority for young people, with increasing rates of depression and anxiety reported among adolescents in recent years.

But accessing resources that can help someone get the help they need can also be extremely difficult. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says about half of the 57,000 Maryland teenagers who have depression can’t get treatment.

This weekend, an event being held at Bowie State University hopes to bridge some of those gaps.

It’s called the GOAT Youth Mental Health Expo — GOAT being an acronym for greatest of all time — and it’s targeted at people between 15-24-years old, as well as their parents and loved ones. That’s because half of all mental illnesses start by the age of 14, and 75% by age 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“It’s an expo for everyone,” said Sheryl Neverson, the vice president of Maryland programs at Volunteers of America Chesapeake and the Carolinas. She said with so many clients having to travel from place-to-place for services, “we can bring people to one place where they can get all of the resources or see all of the resources that the county had to offer without going door-to-door, place-to-place.”

The expo teams up with Bowie State and the Prince George’s County Health Department, but it’s open to anyone around the D.C. area. This year, more than 1,500 people are expected to register to attend.

Knowing that the target audience doesn’t want to deal with boredom, Neverson promises it’ll be anything but.

“PowerPoints are out the door,” Neverson said. “We know that we’re working with youth and families. They’re energetic, they have a lot of energy. So, one of the things that we do, as it’s continued to grow, is we made it interactive.”

There will be music, performances and even service animals scheduled to be there. Among those also presenting is Isaiah Atcherson, a sophomore at Bowie State.

His presentation will deal with children’s exposure to violence in media “and how as they see it, they can become desensitized to it,” said Atcherson. “They see more violence and they want to consume more violence in media.”

As someone who grew up with violent movies, video games and even social media images, Atcherson said he realized “I don’t feel the same emotions as a person who didn’t should when witnessing violence. And I just don’t want other kids to have the same thing.

“They witness all this stuff early on. They think it’s cool, it’s fun, and they try to act it out themselves,” Atcherson said. “As they go on they become more and more normal to it.”

He said it’s a common feeling in his generation.

“There’s a lot for them to get out of this” expo, said Atcherson. With too many young people coping through their mental health struggles the wrong way, “they can learn how not to do stuff like that and do it in a way that is comfortable for them and allows them to progress forward in life and be a better person.”

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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