Group aims to give girls safe place to talk

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GREENFIELD — Ashlee Burke is around young women often.

She’s a nurse in an obstetrics and gynecology office, where she gets to chatting with the girls and young women who come for visits and wellness checks. She’s also the mother of a daughter in junior high school, and her home is regularly overrun by gossiping and giggling preteens.

In both realms, she doesn’t always like what she hears.

She doesn’t like to hear women groan as they step onto the scale in the doctor’s office, to hear them jokingly asking the nurse to — pretty please — leave just a few pounds off the paperwork.

She doesn’t like to hear the words her daughter’s friends use to describe themselves, to hear about the negative interaction they’ve had with a classmate or on social media.

She started wondering: Wouldn’t it be great if girls had a place to safely and freely talk over their issues and fears, a place where they could build each other up rather than tear themselves down?

Burke and a few colleagues have spearheaded a program, in partnership with Hancock Regional Hospital, to do just that.

Girl Talk is a free meeting for Hancock County girls in sixth to eighth grade to come and talk with their peers and medical professionals, to freely ask questions about their changing bodies and learn how to strive for physical, social and emotional well-being.

The meetings will take place on the third Monday of the month — with the first session on Nov. 19 — from 6-7 p.m. in Hancock Regional Hospital’s Classroom 2, located on the lower level of the hospital, 801 N. State St., Greenfield.

Parents will need to stop by the classroom for the beginning of their daughters’ first Girl Talk meeting to sign some paperwork.

Topics of conversation at Girl Talk will vary from month to month, and will include peer pressure and how to deal with it; having a positive body image; menstrual cycles; and setting boundaries.

Two nurses and a nurse practitioner will be on hand each meeting to lead the discussions. The girls will also be able to ask questions, whether they be aloud during a session or written down and submitted via an anonymous box.

Burke said she recognizes that it can be difficult for girls their parents or health teachers about these topics. She’s hoping Girl Talk will be space for girls to open up, to help them better understand themselves and each other.

Announcement of the Girl Talk meetings comes as the county struggles to find a way to help its youth deal with low self-esteem, bullying and loneliness.

A series of mental-health convocations held at local high schools and middle schools this fall revealed that youth in Hancock County struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide.

More than half of students surveyed at the events said they know someone who struggles with thoughts of suicide. Some 35 percent admitted they had seriously considered ending their own life in the last year.

Nearly 40 percent of students polled said they live with a high level of anxiety, and 16 percent of students said they felt more depressed than the average person.

A quarter of the students said if they were struggling with something, they would talk to their parents about it; and about 41 percent said they’d talk to friends their own age. But roughly 23 percent said they wouldn’t talk to anyone about what’s troubling them.

In response, officials from area schools and the hospital vowed to make peer groups, like Girl Talk, more widely available to youth in the county.

More information is available by calling (317) 477-6500 or emailing [email protected].

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Girl Talk is a free program for girls in sixth to eighth grade. It will convene on the third Monday of the month — with the first session on Nov. 19 — from 6-7 p.m. in Hancock Regional Hospital’s Classroom 2, located on the lower level of the hospital.

Parents will need to stop by the classroom for the beginning of their daughters’ first Girl Talk meeting to sign some paperwork.

 More information is available by calling (317) 477-6500 or emailing [email protected].

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