Summit will raise awareness about mental health

COM logoFor immediate news release

7/20/2015

MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING FOR COMMUNITY MEMBERS TO BE OFFERED AT NIAGARA UNIVERSITY

In response to growing mental health needs in the community, the Mental Health Association in Niagara County, Inc., is teaming up with Niagara University and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center to present “Changing Our Minds: A Mental Health Summit”. It is open to the public and is recommended for anyone who wants to be more aware and better prepared to respond to mental illness, both in the workplace and in everyday situations.

The summit will take place on Saturday, September 19, from 10 am to 1pm at Niagara University and the cost is $15 per person.

This compelling and engaging program will include dynamic speakers and presentations, demonstrations, useful training materials and more. Attendees will learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness in those around them, and learn how to respond in a supportive manner in assisting people in accessing the mental health services they need.

Eric Weaver, a retired sergeant with the Rochester Police Department and the founder of Overcoming the Darkness, will be speaking on the importance of overcoming the stigma of mental health. Maryalice Demler, news anchor for WGRZ-TV in Buffalo and an alumna of Niagara University, will serve as the Master of Ceremonies. The event will also feature a resource fair composed of vital local community service agencies, providing an opportunity for attendees to become familiar with the people and programs that support mental health.

Dr. Timothy Osberg, a professor of psychology at Niagara University who will be speaking at the summit, said mental health issues have been growing on campus as well as in the community.

“It is critically important that more people have the willingness and skills to help others in crisis so that fewer tragedies occur,” Dr. Osberg said.

Osberg believes the summit will provide all attendees — whether they are faculty, staff and students of Niagara University or members of the larger community — with the needed skills.

Mental Health Association in Niagara County Executive Director Cheryl Blacklock notes that with the rise in suicides among youth and the prevalence of mental health in general, the conference will play an important role in addressing the stigma of mental illness.

“We have to have open discussions about mental health if we are going to improve prevention and treatment,” Blacklock said.

“Educating and sensitizing members of the community is a vitally important task,” said Christopher Kijowski, LCSW, supervisor of outpatient behavioral health at Niagara Falls Memorial. “Compassion is an important value, as it helps to confirm the belief that the transformation of the mind and heart are possible for every human being.”

Businesses and other organizations are encouraged to send at least one employee to attend the summit, and to designate that person as a “mental health ambassador.”

For more information, call the Mental Health Association in Niagara County, Inc., at (716) 433-3780, ext. 304. To register online, visit www.mhanc.com.

The Mental Health Association in Niagara County, Inc. is funded by the New York State Office of Mental Health, the Niagara County Department of Mental Health, the United Way of Greater Niagara, the United Way of the Tonawandas, grants, memberships and voluntary contributions.

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Video clips that help reduce the stigma of mental illness

It can be challenging to talk about mental health issues, but that is one of the reasons stigma survives. These clips can help make it easier to start a conversation, as they feature famous celebrities from the world of entertainment and sports who are willing to share openly about their own struggles. There are many things we can learn from hearing their stories, including the lesson that mental illness is treatable!

First, here is Demi Lovato speaking out about Bipolar Disorder and the difficulties of having a mental health diagnosis. Length: 8 min

In this next clip, numerous celebrities discuss the stigma of mental health and how it affects us all. Length: 3.5 min

Here is a great slideshow featuring celebrities over the years who have suffered from mental health disorders. Length: 13.5 min

For an helpful overview of mental health, here is a short clip from Australia with great graphics. Length: 2.5 min

We hope you find them useful, and please let us know what other videos you have found helpful by leaving a comment below.

Support groups offer friendly and effective therapy

TitleRe-printed by permission from Greater Niagara Newspapers.

paper cutoutsPicture this: you are facing a crisis. Maybe you just got diagnosed with major depression or a chronic illness, or perhaps you have suffered a significant loss. What do you do? In addition to receiving treatment from doctors and professional, you are likely to seek out emotional support and even advice from family and friends. But sometimes more is needed. When faced with a stressful life challenge, receiving emotional support is an important part of accepting, adjusting and recovering. While your friends or family may be there for you, sometimes they are not able to offer all the help you need or even understand what you are really going through.

So where can you find a safe place where others in the same situation are willing to listen to you, share their own experiences and even offer advice and support?

A mutual aid support group can provide just that. Support groups can be considered “informal therapy” as no referral is required, the meetings are often led by peers, and there is no commitment. A professional may serve merely as an advisor or co-facilitator, and you can be as passive or as active as you’d like. This provides a great deal of flexibility and convenience, which may be exactly what you need to convince yourself it’s worth a try.

How effective can peer-led, mutual aid support groups be? In many situations, research is proving it to be comparable to one-on-one therapy with a professional. One study looked at people suffering from moderate depression and found that there was little difference in the outcome for those attending peer-led mutual support groups versus those working with trained therapists. For bereaved parents, involvement in a support group led to a greater sense of control and decreased depression, guilt and anger. Similar findings were found in groups for the elderly, former mental health patients and those diagnosed with a chronic illness.

The level of participation in a support group does make a difference.Studies have shown that individuals with strong attendance and involvement in the group have the best outcomes. In the area of substance abuse, for example, high attendance at a self-help meeting was related to lower use of alcohol.Additionally, members of support groups who were highly active tended to report higher levels of self-esteem and more effective coping skills.

There are many theories about why support groups work. First, there is the social aspect which contributes to reduced feelings of isolation. There is an instant sense of community when people identify with each other and relate to each others’ struggles.Second, the members of the group offer a pool of knowledge that is a professional is unlikely to have.Support group members have “inside information” cultivated from their own experience, which can be a great help to other members making decisions about treatment, personal matters and more.Finally, there is the effect of “helper therapy”. Those members who contribute to the group by helping others tend to feel better and make better progress in their journey to recovery.

As sensible as all this may seem, people can still find many reasons to avoid attending a support group even if they are struggling. A big reason is stigma.While it can be difficult for people to admit they need help, a bigger fear is admitting this to others. They may feel uncomfortable with nurturing their emotional life and fear that others will view them as week or needy.Worse yet, they may fear being associated with anything related to mental health.

If you feel you could benefit from a support group but have concerns about how people will look at you, remember you are not taking your acquaintances with you to the meetings.They will not be privy to your thoughts and feelings. An advantage of a support group is that the people there are strangers, so you have not reputation to maintain.Plus, a general rule among support group members is “no judgment”. Support groups are places of confidence where you can safely share whatever is on your mind.

Finding the right support group for you may take a little effort, but there are many resources available. Some groups are even available online.The Mental Health Association in Niagara County maintains a list of support groups and even sponsors several in Lockport and Niagara Falls. They also provide periodic trainings for support group leaders and have resources for individuals who wish to start one. For more information, visit www.mhanc.com or call 716-433-3780.


The original publication date was February 15, 2015 under the title Crisis Control: Getting by with a little help from your group. Mind Matters is a regular column of the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun Journal.

PamePamela.imagela Szalay is the Director of Marketing and Operations at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County Inc. and provides educational presentations and workshops on mental health topics for the community. You can reach her by email.

Facts over fear: The myths and truths of mental health

Group of Friends with Arms Around Each Other

Re-printed by permission from Greater Niagara Newspapers.

How common is mental illness? Chances are you know someone who suffers from some form of a diagnosable mental health problem. Every day you may encounter people at work, at school, at the mall and maybe even at home. Does this seem possible?

The reason the prevalence of mental illness comes as a surprise to many of us is that we just don’t understand what mental illness is, we don’t talk about it and, as a society, we tend to buy into the myths instead of the facts. The National Institute of Mental Health asserts that nearly 20 percent of the adult population in the United States had a diagnosable mental illness in 2012—about 44 million adults. This number includes people who are minimally impaired. So while you may interact with people who suffer from depression or anxiety, the illness is not obvious.

This has a couple of implications. The good news is that if you realize that mental illness is common and does not necessarily disrupt a normal life, then you might start viewing mental illness as less threatening. On the other hand, if it is so common, then why do we know so little about it? Why don’t we talk about as easily as we might talk about physical ailments? Why don’t we have more support systems in place to help the millions of individuals who are dealing with mental illness in all its forms?

At the root of all these questions is the problem of stigma. Misconceptions and stereotypes about mental illness prevent us from dealing with it openly and honestly. We take the fear instead of the facts. As a result, many people avoid addressing issues with their own mental health and people with a diagnosis suffer from discrimination.

Many of our fears are based on the misguided belief that all mental health disorders are life-long, debilitating ailments that have no effective treatments. The facts are that many disorders may last less than a year, can have mild symptoms that do not impact work, and can be resolved with proven solution-centered talk therapies in a reasonably short period of time. In many cases, no drugs are needed.

Another common myth is that mentally ill people are dangerous. However, statistics have shown that the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime rather than the perpetrator. Sadly, the headlines in the media often dramatize the opposite message. As a result, we reinforce our negative stereotypes and build another reason to fear mental illness.

Still another myth is that people with a mental illness are weird, crazy, socially awkward or inappropriate. We think we would be afraid around them, and may even avoid people when we learn they have a diagnosis. Yet in reality, there are “normal” people all around us who might battle depression, cope with a phobia, take medication for bipolar, or receive regular therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. Someone with a mental illness can hold a job, raise a family, or be a volunteer. They may seem more well-adjusted and less stressed than you feel. They may even have better coping skills as a result of training and cognitive-behavior therapy.

Since the topic of mental illness is not a comfortable topic for most people, the myths remain unchallenged. Those with a diagnosis are reluctant to admit it for fear of being treated differently. Yet this leaves the misleading impression that mental illness is not relevant to all our lives. Worse yet, people who need help are often afraid to ask for it, and may not even know where to start getting help.

In the months ahead, I will continue to explore myths and truths about mental health, all in an effort to break down the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get the help they need. If you need assistance, please call the MHA at (716) 433-3780. We are here for you!


Note: This article was first published for Greater Niagara Newspapers (Lockport Union-Sun Journal, Niagara Gazette and Tonawanda News) on November 16, 2014.

Pamela Szalay is the Director of Marketing and Operations at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County Inc. and provides educational presentations and workshops on mental health topics for the community. You can reach her by email.

Long-time Staffer Sees Big Challenges in Mental Health Field

By Betty Intihar, Front Office Assistant at the Mental Health Association in Niagara CountyImage

Hello, my name is Betty Intihar and I have been an employee of the MHA for 28 years. The Compeer Niagara program had just begun in Niagara County and I was the first person hired. Now I work at the front desk of our office on 36 Pine Street, Lockport, answering calls and helping anyone who comes by. If you call our Help Line, you may just get me!

Over the years, I have seen many good things happen in the mental health field: positive, new medications; more advocacy for mental health services; more peer-led support groups; better hospital advocates; and many new programs that enrich the lives of our clients. I have even seen some promising models for mental health services, such as the clubhouse model. A clubhouse would offer consumers a safe place to be with friends and enjoy some coffee and conversation. Sadly, that approach ended several years ago and no real replacement has been found. But we try to do what we can through our Help Line, and will often spend a few minutes talking to someone who just needs a friendly voice.

Many other challenges remain. With state money drying up, many mental health programs have had to close, let go valued workers, or offer fewer services.  Many organizations now operate with fewer social workers, and those that remain must handle a larger client load. Also, hospital mental health units for adults and children are being closed, leaving families in Niagara County with limited options.

There are also challenges in the areas of housing and transportation. In housing, I have found that there are many landlords who take advantage of clients. Affordable, safe housing is a rare find, and often what is available is old and unsafe.  As for transportation, that has remained a problem for all the years I have been in this field. For example, limited bus schedules between Lockport and Niagara Falls can mean traveling all morning for a 30-minute afternoon appointment. This kind of time commitment can require missing an entire day of work, and that just doesn’t seem fair.

The MHA is now entering its 50th year and I am proud to say I have been here for about two-thirds of it! I have enjoyed my work and the staff I have worked with over the years. The work we do for our clients and families is very important, and the dedication from our staff is outstanding. If you have never utilized any of our services, which include a wonderful resource library and free informational brochures, I invite you to come visit us. Most people don’t know who we are until they need us. Why not see what we have to offer? We are here for you!  ◊

Child’s Diagnosis Leads to Joining Mental Health Association Board

Rebecca Wydysh

Rebecca Wydysh

By Rebecca Wydysh, President of the Board of Directors at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County.

People often ask me why I decided to join the MHA Board of Directors.  I don’t work in the mental health field, or any medical field, for that matter. My interest is much more personal and first hand…

In 2008, my daughter was your average third grader.  She had lots of friends, received great grades and all her teachers said she was “a pleasure to have in class”.  Virtually out of nowhere, things changed. She started adamantly and ferociously refusing to go to school, with no real reason or explanation.  She simply DID NOT and WOULD NOT go!   And there was no making her…she would act out emotionally and physically, to the point it would have been dangerous for her (and me), if forced.

While the school staff was extremely supportive, and tried to help in any way they could, it was clear there was no real program in place to help us.  We were given several suggestions and even ended up staying overnight at a hospital emergency wing, where we were ultimately told “good luck” and released.  We spent several frustrating days contacting our own doctors, insurance company, friends and family, just trying to get her the immediate help she needed.  Many counselors had a wait of several weeks or a month just to get a first appointment.  We felt alone and useless to help our daughter.

After several months of counseling attempts, a diagnosis of “Generalized Anxiety and School Refusal”, in-patient treatment, and home schooling, she was finally able to return to class.  Most of this might have been avoided if we had just had a better support system and treatment plan from the start. It was a difficult few years of ups and downs, but I’m happy to say that she has grown so much (in age and wisdom) and now has very little trouble going to school every day.

During our journey, I saw just how frustrating it can be to navigate the mental health system, especially where children are concerned, and I wish I had known more about the MHA and the programs we offer.  I had just started my position as Deputy Commissioner of Jurors in Niagara County with the New York State Unified Court System and was lucky to have very supportive employers and co-workers.  I cannot imagine how much more difficult, or even impossible, it would be for a parent dealing with their own mental health diagnosis during that type of crisis.

It was shortly after this experience, in 2009, that I was invited to join the Board of Directors.   I joined without hesitation, in the hope of helping in any way that I can, big or small, to support other children in our community to receive the care they need, while also supporting the parents that love them. 

I am honored to be the current Board President at MHA in Niagara Counyt, and will do all I can to raise awareness for the organization and further the crucial programs our staff works so hard every day to develop and expand.  ◊

Visit www.mhanc.com to learn more

The DSM-5 arrives in cloud of controversy

By Steve Ferguson,  Director of Consumer Activities

DSM5

Dr. Richard Friedman recently wrote an article in the NY Times  giving his view on the new 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to DSM-5.  The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and it provides set criteria for the classification of mental disorders.

As science progresses and evolves, it is common sense to go back and revise earlier criteria amid new evidence.  However, there has been little ground-breaking new evidence since the publication of the 4th edition (DSM-4).  Many psychiatrists feel the release of DSM-5 is premature and potentially dangerous to those with a mental health diagnosis and also those who are seeking help for the first time.

In the article Dr. Friedman gives an example of how DSM-5 could be potentially dangerous and unethical.  DSM-4 clearly differentiates normal/expected grief a person suffers from after a loss (ex: death of a loved one or good friend) from severe clinical depression.  However, the new DSM-5 encourages clinicians to diagnose major depression in parents who are grieving the loss of a child only after two weeks of mild depressive symptoms.   This is dangerous for the devastated parents who will be prescribed medications they may not need. Basically, it shows a rush to medicate when perhaps the parents should have time to work with a grief counselor to start the healing process.

This rush to prescribe anti-depressants without proper therapeutic treatment is an ongoing problem because it mislabels healthy people with a psychiatric diagnosis, although it does benefit pharmaceutical corporations with an increase in sales of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers.

However, keeping all that in mind, I believe that DSM has been a valuable tool for psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, therapists, and many other practitioners.   One of its important benefits is that it can still provide a common language for clinicians to use in order to discuss and treat mental illnesses. While the latest edition of DSM comes with its share of issues and limitations, perhaps it can still be a useful tool when used with caution. And like anything that is in the realm of science, the DSM will continue to evolve and progress as new evidence and truths regarding mental disorders are unveiled.

(The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of the Mental Health Association in Niagara County, Inc.)

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Your input is important to us! We would like to know your thoughts about this important Mental Health issue. Please feel free to use the contact form below. You can also join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Sincerely,

MHA in Niagara County

(716) 433-3780

 

Help for Hoarders

A Book Review of The Secret Lives of Hoarders (2011), by Matt Paxton with Phaedra Hise, published by Penguin.  Matt Paxton is an Organizing Expert on A&E’s show, Hoarders.

2011 Book by Matt Paxton, Organizing Expert on A&E's Hoarders

As a young man, Matt Paxton cleaned houses. After he had cleaned houses for several hoarders, he was surprised at what he learned about them: hoarders don’t love the way they live.  In actuality, hoarders are good people struggling with difficult issues.  They need love and understanding as well as help to recover.

Years later, the author now specializes in working with hoarders. His book, The Secret Lives of Hoarders: True Stories of Tackling Extreme Clutter,  is filled with true stories.

As I read this fascinating book, what struck me is the difference between “collectors” and “hoarders”.   For hoarders, the piles of stuff are in every room, not just in one messy place.  The whole house is full. More than just a nuisance, clutter gets to the point where it actually interferes with the activities of daily living. While it is easy to judge people who live with such a mess, it must be realized that hoarding is not a character flaw, nor does it result from mere laziness or forgetfulness. Hoarding is a mental disorder.

The Secret Lives of Hoarders is much more than stories and photographs of stuffed houses: it’s a look at a hidden epidemic.  Paxton offers insight, compassion and support by revealing what hoarding is,  how to recognize it before it gets out of hand, and how to deal with it. I strongly recommend it.

Book Review by Linda Stevens, Director of Compeer Niagara at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County.