HAND IT ON: Matthew Fletcher's Mental Health Fair

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Matthew Fletcher, a Boy Scout in qualification for Eagle, is a 17-year-old high school senior who suffers from mental illness, but I'll not go into specifics of Matthew's disorder here.

What I will let you know is Matthew learned at an early age about the stigma that more often than not is attached to people suffering from behavioral health issues. As a child growing up with a bi-polar step-mother, I learned about that stigma at an early age, too. My siblings were frightened when my step-mom's illness would flare up. To me, it was just another illness - like diabetes or shingles. I'm not sure why we still refer to it as 'mental illness' and not just 'illness.'

The stigma. Matthew and his family had trouble early in his illness with 'The stigma.' They even had problems finding understanding professionals in the medical industry of all places.

"Matthew said he didn't want other people to have to go through what we've gone through," said Pam Fletcher, Matthew's mother. "He told us at the young age of 14 that he wanted to hold a mental health fair to help educate people about 'The stigma.'"

Fast forward to present day. Matthew is in qualification for Eagle Scout. He'll make it, too. I have no doubt at all. In addition to all the merit badges and other qualification requirements needed to attain the highest advancement rank in scouting, that of Eagle Scout, all applicants must do an Eagle Scout Project.

Matthew wanted his to be the Mental Health Fair he spoke to his parents about when he was 14. After presenting his project specifications to the proper authorities, a mental health fair was approved as Matthew's Eagle Scout project. He locked down a date and secured the venue, the Chapel in the Oaks Church on Siegen Lane in Baton Rouge. He also invited mental health professionals to set up information tables, invited fellow Boy Scouts from his Troop 769 in Prairieville to serve food, secured t-shirts to sell from the non-profit organization called Bring Change to Mind (an organization dedicated to encouraging dialogue about mental health issues), and even thought of a kids corner with arts and crafts for them to enjoy.

And during the fair, at an agreed upon time, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) named Josh Pitre, a participant in the fair, presented Matthew with WAFB's Hand It On gift of $300.

"And so, we're here today with a plethora of providers from the area," Josh addressed Matthew, surrounded by his fellow scouts and other visitors. "And in conjunction with WAFB, you've actually been nominated to Hand It On. And so they're actually giving you $300 today."

Matthew, clearly surprised and blushing, coyly uttered a soft "Thank You" as he accepted the gift. 'The stigma.' Let's help Matthew end it. For more information on ways you can help, contact Bring Change to Mind at www.bringchange2mind.org.

Also, the Baton Rouge chapter of The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is seeking artwork made by people with mental illness. The selected artwork will be presented in an exhibition called The Mind's Eye at the Firehouse Gallery, at the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, with a reception on Nov. 3, 2017. Submissions can be made via e-mail (this is the preferred method) to Kelsey Livingston at the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge at klivingston@artsbr.org.

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