Mental Health Summit: Worth Your Time on a Saturday!

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By Dr. Timothy Osberg, Professor of Psychology, Niagara University

We now have nearly 150 participants registered for the “Changing Our Minds: A Mental Health Summit” conference that will take place at the Castellani Museum this Saturday, September 19th from 10 am – 1 pm. We are hoping to “sell out the house” and reach the maximum 200 participants allowed in the CAM main gallery according to the fire code. We all know that mental health problems, among our students and in the broader community, are reaching a critical mass.

If you are thinking that giving up the first part of this Saturday is not worth attending a dry conference on a troubling societal problem that makes you uncomfortable – think again! It will not be that kind of conference as detailed below:

  • NU alum Maryalice Demler (Emcee), President, Fr. James Maher, and State Senator Robert Ortt, a champion of mental health in the Niagara County community, will help open the conference.
  • A dynamic keynote speaker, Eric Weaver, a former Rochester police sergeant, and founder of, Out of the Darkness, will present on overcoming stigma and mental illness.
  • Niagara University Theatre students, directed by Doug Zschiegner, will enact engaging situations that highlight how we need to respond differently to the subtle signs of psychological disorders that those around us might reveal.
  • There will be a panel discussion comprised of key local mental health professionals, from our campus and in the community, as well as peer advocates from the local area.
  • There will be a Resource Fair with key local mental health agencies represented.
  • Live musical entertainment by Nick Reding will be on hand, as will light refreshments (coffee, cookies, brownies, flavored water) during the conference.
  • Stay around and network afterwards, have some pizza for lunch, and make requests to our talented local acoustic guitarist!
  • And, yes, I am presenting at the conference on recognizing the signs of mental illness and supporting someone into the helping system.

If you care about the growing problem of mental health issues at NU and in our community, please consider attending! To register, click here. (Students, staff and faculty of Niagara University can register by emailing me at tosberg@niagara.edu.) Also, please forward this email message to people you know, so that we can form a community partnership on this critical problem!

I hope you will consider starting off this Saturday in the tradition of St. Vincent! We can all “Do More” to foster mental health in our community!

Tim

“Mental disease is no different than bodily disease and Christianity demands of the humane and powerful to protect, and the skillful to relieve, the one as well as the other.”

~St. Vincent dePaul

http://dailypost.niagara.edu/nu-will-host-changing-our-minds-a-mental-health-summit/

http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/niagara-university/tragedies-underline-the-need-to-be-prepared-to-respond-to-mental-illness-20150903

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College prep should include mental health awareness

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Graduation is typically a day of hope, but parents should help prepare recent high school grads for the stresses of college, says Mind Matters columnist Pamela Szalay.

Do you know a young person going off to college for the first time, or returning to college this fall?

This is an exciting time for students who have spent years preparing academically. Yet despite that preparation, most students will encounter significant amounts of stress while in college to the point of feeling overwhelmed. Some even report feeling hopeless. Mental health issues are a growing concern on college campuses. According to Dr. Timothy Osberg, a psychology professor at Niagara University, college students are arriving on campuses across the nation with more frequent and more severe mental health problems. Reports over the last several months have been alarming as high suicide rates have been reported at the University of Pennsylvania, Tulane University, Appalachian State University, and the College of William and Mary.

What can be done to protect young people? Awareness is the key. Students and parents should realize that mental health issues are a real concern on today’s college campuses. But they are very treatable— and the sooner, the better. Also, students should learn how to manage stress in healthy ways and take advantage of additional resources if needed. They should never hesitate to seek help.

Unfortunately, many students do not seek help. Instead they cope in unhealthy ways such as ignoring the problem or turning to substances. Students may need coaching in developing healthy responses to stress, such as meditation, deep-breathing, regular relaxation, maintaining social supports and getting more sleep and exercise. They will also need to be made aware of campus support systems such as wellness centers or counseling services. They need to know who to turn to when they are feeling alone, anxious or depressed.

Ideally, all campus staff and students should be educated about recognizing and responding to early warning signs, such as a loss of interest in typical activities, social withdrawal, lower performance in school, or changes in mood or appetite. Early intervention can prevent more serious issues from developing.

To prepare for success in college, add this to your list: find out what mental health resources are available on campus. For example, what protocols are there campus-wide for responding to mental health issues? What kind of training do Residence Hall advisors have for recognizing a potential mental health crisis?

Also, find out the exact location and name of the campus counseling or wellness center.

Get the phone number and make sure it gets posted in your son or daughter’s dorm room and even programmed into a cell phone contact list. Label it with something easy to remember, like “counseling” or “help on campus.”

Another important contact to add is the local crisis services* phone number or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Prevention and awareness are critical in supporting the mental health of college students. Armed with some basic self-help knowledge and the assurance that there is a caring support system in place, students are given a greater chance of succeeding and thriving in higher education.

*For assistance in Niagara County, NY, please call the Help Line at (716) 433-5432 or visit the online Help Book.


Original publication date: July 5, 2015. Mind Matters is a regular column of the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun Journal.

Pamela SzalayPamela 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.

To download an easy-to-print version of this column click here.

Mind Matters Column July 5 2015 College

 

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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Robin Williams’ Suicide Brings Mental Health Issues to the Forefront

By Stacy Knott, Coordinator, Compeer Niagara for Adults
sbowman@mhanc.comTransit Drive In

“While we are deeply saddened by Mr. Williams’ unfortunate passing, we can celebrate his greatest efforts to lift our spirits by entertaining us with his movies, while hoping to provide help to others who someday may need their own spirits lifted on their darkest of days.” – Transit Drive-In

Note: This past fall, the Transit Drive-In Theater in Lockport, NY, selected the Mental Health Association in Niagara County as the designated charity for a Robin Williams triple feature film tribute on Labor Day weekend, as well as a double-feature tribute the following weekend. During the films, the Mental Health Association was on-hand to present educational materials to the public at an information booth. Stacy Knott managed the table several evenings and observed the public reaction.

I personally had the pleasure of sitting at the table for hours and disseminated countless pieces of literature but what struck me the most were the questions from so many in wonder of how could someone with so much going for them, possibly feel depressed to the point of suicide? It made no sense to them that an individual with so much money and fame could take their own life. Undoubtedly, there’s a certain amount of reason for this belief but the reality is that depression (like all mental illnesses) doesn’t take personal factors into account. Depression can affect anyone at any time.

I also discovered by running the table that the stigma of a mental illness is a huge problem. It was almost as though many feared approaching the table because the table cloth read “Mental Health Association”. Each time I walked away and the table was “safe” to approach for free information, several gathered round. Although I was elated that the information was being sought out, it was disheartening to see firsthand that people with a mental illness often suffer more from the stigma than they do from the illness itself. It drives many away from getting the professional help they need based on fear of what others will think.

Williams actually died of a disease—a terrible, terrible disease. Depression consumed the man, and it killed him, too, even if it used his hands to do it. I can’t help but think: if we as a society talked more frankly and openly and without shame about depression, if we took depression more seriously as a disease rather than as an issue of deficient willpower or character, maybe we wouldn’t lose so many irreplaceable  people—our heroes, our visionaries, our friends, our family—year after year”

-Graham Bishop

Typically, glamorizing suicide is the absolute worst thing you can do but in Williams’ death, it seems as though the media created an opportunity for people to open up about their own struggles. Thank you, Transit Drive-In, for offering this tribute and for selecting our agency to participate. Our agency searches for various opportunities to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. It is the selfless generosity from large-hearted people that continue to make it possible for us to take on this issue.


This article first appeared in 2014 fall edition of our newsletter, The Voice.