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.

First Aid for Mental Health

Re-printed by permission from Greater Niagara Newspapers.

Imagine yomental health first aidu are out to lunch with a friend, co-worker or parent. As you begin your meal, you notice something odd: she can’t seem to lift her fork. You make a little joke and she responds by smiling on just one side of her mouth. It occurs to you that these are the signs of a stroke. Calmly, you ask her to say something but she can’t put a sentence together. At this point, you know it’s time to call 9-1-1.

Now imagine another, similar scene. This friend, colleague or parent you have known for years has met you for lunch but is behaving oddly. He has just ordered a second drink yet you have never known him to drink at lunch. There is also a change in mood: instead of being excited about an invitation to play golf, he seems not to care. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be able to focus on the conversation. You react by thinking, “what’s wrong with him? Why can’t he control himself?” You may be uncomfortable addressing the situation and simply leave feeling disappointed.

When a person shows unusual behavior, feelings or thoughts, it can be a sign of mental distress. Rather than judgment from friends and family, what that person needs is something akin to “mental health first aid”: someone else to recognize there is a problem and offer assistance in getting the best help.

Because the general public lacks knowledge about basic mental health, it is common for signs of mental illness to go unrecognized for years. Both the person suffering and the people around him may not realize that the symptoms are real, potentially serious and treatable. Unfortunately, the impact of our ignorance is not small.

When mental health disorders go unrecognized and untreated, there are serious implications to an individual’s physical health, quality of life and independence. Consider this: mental illness can take 25 years from someone’s life. That’s more than all cancers combined and possibly more damaging than smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Early intervention can lessen the impact and even prevent the development of a serious disorder that could interfere with education, work and family life.

There is also a corresponding cost to society. The financial costs of mental illness rival that of cancer. Jails and juvenile detention centers are full of individuals who might not be there if their mental illnesses had been properly addressed at the onset. Finally, social services must often intervene to provide assistance to people who can no longer keep a job or were never able to finish school. Basically, our lack of understanding about mental health prevents both the identification and treatment of disorders– a concerning situation especially when we consider that the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that almost 44 million adults had a diagnosable mental disorder in 2012.

While many changes can be made to public policy, there are things each of us can do starting now to be more responsive to mental health issues. It starts by taking care of those around us. Family, friends, co-workers, teachers, school counselors and neighbors are often the first to notice when something is “not quite right” with someone. Each of us can certainly learn to recognize the signs of a mental disorder in the same way we would recognize the signs of a heart attack or stroke.

Here are some key things to look for: recent social withdrawal or apathy, an unusual drop in functioning at work or school including quitting sports, failing or inability to concentrate, dramatic changes in appetite, sleep, hygiene or mood, a heightened sensitivity to sounds, sights, smells or touch, and problems with logical thought and speech. Basically, uncharacteristic and peculiar behavior, feelings or thinking should raise a red flag.

If you become concerned about someone’s mental health, the creators of Mental Health First Aid, Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorm, suggest following these five steps: assess for risk of suicide or harm; listen nonjudgmentally; give reassurance and information; encourage appropriate professional help; and encourage self-help and other support strategies.

If you suspect someone is actively suicidal, you can call the Niagara County Suicide Prevention Hotline at (716) 285-3515. For a list of all the emergency phone numbers in Niagara County, you can obtain a Help Book from the Niagara County Mental Health Association in Niagara County Inc. by calling (716) 433-3780 or going online at http://www.mhanc.com.


Original publication date: March 15, 2015. The column Mind Matters is a regular column of the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun Journal.

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.

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Local Church Provides Blue Christmas Service to the Community

MHA in Niagara County is sharing this on behalf of the “Blue Christmas Service” organizers.

WinterMost people think of Christmas as a happy time for families and friends. But for some people, the holidays just intensify feelings of sadness if they’re going through rough times. That why the Rev. Dr. Skilbred is offering the fifth annual “Blue Christmas” service at First English Lutheran Church in Lockport, NY.

Whether you are feeling blue, have lost a loved one to death, divorce or illness or are unable to recover your health, job or identity as you once knew it, the Blue Christmas service provides a coming together of people who understand that life has seasons of sadness and that grief needs room to breath in safe places. Members of the congregation and people from all walks of life in the community are invited to attend this special service.

When: Sunday, December 21, 2014

Time: 7:00 pm (sanctuary)

Where: First English Lutheran Church, 185 Locust Street, Lockport, NY.


The Mental Health Association in Niagara County and the Niagara County Department of Mental Health together provide residents of Niagara County, New York,  with Information and Referral services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Need Help? Call the Help Line: (716) 433-3780.

Our Help Book is available as a pdf download from our website.

Please consider supporting the programs and services of MHA Niagara with a membership or one-time donation. You can learn more more about us by visiting our website.

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.

Celebrating 50 Years of Service to the Community of Niagara County

NEWS RELEASE

This May marks a milestone for the Mental Health Association in Niagara County (MHA): they are celebrating 50 years of service to the community of Niagara County. MHA invites the public to join them in celebration at a reception on May 13th, from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m., at the Tuscarora Inn on Walnut Street in Lockport. The evening will feature hors d’oeuvres, live music, cash bar, a short ceremony and the opportunity to meet our staff and Board of Directors. Tickets are $25, and the MHA requests an RSVP by May 6th.

During the past 50 years, many changes have taken place concerning those with a mental illness and those who provide care for them. In the early 1960’s, there were more than 500,000 individuals locked up in mental institutions throughout America. Because of several changes in mental health and labor laws many doors to asylums were closed leaving thousands of individuals on their own, many for the first time in their lives. Many had no family or friends to turn to. Some wandered and found themselves in homeless shelters, nursing homes, on the streets, and in many instances, in the judicial system.

The MHA has worked diligently to provide the best services available for those with a mental illness, even extending support services to their families. Last year alone, the MHA served more than 98,000 people through their programs and services, including Compeer, In-Home-Respite, various support groups, our information and referral services, educational presentations and trainings, and online resources including our website, Twitter and Facebook pages.

They are proud to be a Peer-Led Agency with an open door policy. Most services are free of charge and every effort is made to go where services are needed. Presentations are provided on the topics of anger management, domestic violence, self-esteem, bullying, suicide prevention, healthy living and much more. These presentations can be scaled to reach individuals as well as larger groups.

The MHA seeks to have the most accurate, up-to-date, professional information and referral program available. Since 1981, the MHA has published and distributed tens-of-thousands of Help Books, a pocket-sized directory of community services now in its 28th edition. Together with the Help Line and website, and through its partnership with the Niagara County Department of Mental Health, the MHA is able to offer information and referral 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

MHA is very fortunate to receive funding through the United Way of Greater Niagara, the United Way of the Tonawanda’s, the Niagara County Department of Mental Health, private donations, membership fees and grants. MHA looks forward to continuing to provide essential programs and services to Niagara County residents for many more years.