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Tom Farley addresses mental health struggles

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Tom Farley addresses mental health struggles

Tom Farley, older brother of comedian and actor Chris Farley, spoke at the North Platte High School’s “A Day for Mental Health” on Tuesday.

Tom Farley shared his message of connection and communication Tuesday during North Platte High School’s second annual “A Day for Mental Health.”

He is the older brother of comedian and actor Chris Farley, who died in 1997, at the age of 33 following a long battle with addiction.

Tom Farley offered his insights on the struggles he and his family went through to encourage North Platte High School seniors and juniors.

“I talk a lot about connection, but it’s really communication more than anything,” Farley said in an interview before his presentation. “Mental illness and substance abuse are diseases of isolation. The flip side of that is you cannot heal in isolation. It requires connection, it requires communication.”

Farley said humor was how his family dealt with trauma and difficulties in life.

“Humor is one of the first emotions we learn to manage our emotion,” Farley said. “Think about when you’re crossing a street and almost get hit by a car, you laugh to try to recalibrate what you just felt.”

His family, Farley said, got good at using humor to cope but didn’t use other emotions.

“We used humor for everything, and when someone in my family was in pain, emotionally or physically, we used humor because we didn’t like their pain,” Farley said. “I look back now and that really wasn’t a connection, it wasn’t really empathetic on our part. It didn’t really work for them and it didn’t work for us, and this humor almost became a little bit of trauma in our family that we’ve had to deal with all these years later.”

Speaking about the issues of his and his family’s life is part of how he is healing from the trauma of Chris’ death.

“It always was a way to deal with my grief, still to this day,” Farley said. “That’s changed, different things, and now it’s more about my journey as well. It just feels like I’m at the right place at the right time all these years later.”

Brandy Buscher, student services director for North Platte Public Schools, said the mental health day offered numerous breakout sessions for the students.

“Today we have college readiness, workforce readiness and some of those things they can use to get ready (for their futures),” Buscher said. “We have sessions on healthy social media, healthy boundaries, which are very important for kids.”

Buscher said several topics were addressed. One panel of mental health therapists was talking about how to stay healthy as an athlete. A pharmacist was to talk about prescription medicines and what happens when they are mixed with alcohol, she said.

About six or seven years ago, Buscher said, schools recognized a need for more focus on students’ mental health.

Later, “returning from COVID, the pandemic, anxiety was so prevalent,” Buscher said. “I think during the pandemic you could just avoid the things that made you anxious, and people got way too used to that.”

She said when everything opened up, many students “just couldn’t do school.”

Farley encourages students to be aware of the resources available to them and to be a resource for their classmates.

“I tell this to kids everywhere I go: Communicate, speak,” Farley said. “If it’s about your emotions, talk about those things. If you see somebody isolating or struggling, be a first responder and talk to them.”

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