Making Mental Health Matter

Peace River Center Teams With Polk Vision to Host Panel Discussions


May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. As COVID rocked the world during the past two years, there has been an increased focus on mental health. Even though there’s been a significant increase in the number of people experiencing and seeking treatment for mental health problems, the stigma surrounding mental illness persists. 

Peace River Center is one local resource committed to battling negative perceptions and providing care to individuals who are seeking assistance in managing their mental health or substance use issues. Now, Peace River Center is teaming up with Polk Vision’s Behavioral Health Committee to host Mental Health Matters, a series of panel discussions designed to educate the public and also provide resources to address various mental health issues.

Three panel discussions will be held throughout May, each dealing with a specific aspect of mental health care. Subject-matter experts will be featured to expound on key issues and answer questions from the audience. The first panel will take place on May 3, and it will focus on Mental Health and Youth. A second panel to be held on May 19 will address Trauma and the Pandemic. The final panel takes place on May 24 and will focus on Mental Health and the Workplace. 

Anyone in the general public who has been impacted by any of these individual panel topics is invited and encouraged to attend the discussions. Parents, teachers, and youth caregivers may benefit particularly from the first discussion on mental health and youth. The third session on workplace issues is ideal for employers, HR professionals, and practically anyone who holds a job. Virtually everyone has been affected in some way by trauma or the pandemic, so the May 19 discussion could be insightful for just about anyone.

The goal of these panel sessions is to help start important conversations among family members, co-workers, classmates, and other groups of people to begin guiding those who need assistance toward available resources. Ileana Kniss, director of Community Relations and Development at Peace River Center, is optimistic that the discussions will hit their targets.

“We know people have questions about mental health and how to help their loved ones, co-workers, and friends,” Kniss explains. “We hope these sessions will shed a light on resources, programs, and services in our community.”

Though Kniss acknowledges the growing need for trained professionals in Polk County to address the needs of both children and adults who have been affected by trauma or other factors regarding mental health, the panels will focus on raising awareness of programs and resources that currently exist in the community.

The topics were selected by a Peace River Center committee and based on the 2021–2025 Polk County Community Health Improvement Plan from the Polk Vision and Polk County Community Health Assessment Workgroup. 

Panelists will include local professionals who specialize in the care and treatment of mental health concerns in children and adolescents.

Tiffani Fritzsche is one of these panelists. She has been with Peace River Center since 2012 and serves as the Children’s Services Director. Her focus since attaining her master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Southeastern University has been on the needs of families affected by trauma in our community with the goal of assisting in their healing journey. Fritzsche is also a certified Mental Health First Aid trainer who works with the Crisis Intervention Training program for local law enforcement, in addition to providing Adoption Competency Training for individuals who work with child welfare and adoption cases.

Other panelists will include Dr. Simon Chamakalayil, a psychiatrist with Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center who treats children and adolescents, and Christy Olson, a senior coordinator for the Polk County School Board certified as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Professional Educator. 

If you are affected by mental health issues pertaining to any of the abovementioned topics, you are warmly invited to take part in the relevant panel discussions either in person or virtually. Share this information with your friends, families, and associates, too. With roughly one in five American adults currently or recently impacted by some type of mental illness, chances are good that someone you know could benefit from this information.

The discussions will be held at The Well, which is located at 114 E. Parker Street in Lakeland. They will also be broadcast online via Zoom for those who wish to take part remotely. The discussions will begin promptly at 8:30 a.m., with breakfast provided for those who are able to attend in person. To learn more and register, visit

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