A Letter to Our Staff Regarding Racism

What do you see?

I see pain. I see trauma. I see anger. I see fear.

I see oppression. I see injustice. I see systemic racism.

As a white woman, I am protected by privilege. I can never truly understand what people of color feel and experience every day. What I can do is understand what racism truly is. As the prominent author Scott Woods wrote: “The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know it, like it, or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another.”

I am deeply saddened, horrified, and angered by the murder of George Floyd. This barbaric act highlights the continued inequities that exist in America. The video footage circulated online, depicting the police officer’s knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, while he stated he couldn’t breathe, while he asked for relief, while he cried out for his mother, is an assault to our senses and to our mental health. It creates a new layer of trauma on top of the many, cumulative layers that already exist for black and brown people in our country. And so, despite my reaction, I will not make the mistake of thinking we all experience his death in the same way.

I will also not make the mistake of thinking that there is nothing we can do during this painful time in our country. We can create safe spaces for our black and brown friends, colleagues, and clients to speak their truth. We can listen, and more deeply understand the feelings and experiences of others. We can follow and learn from leaders of color in our community, in our state, and in our nation. We can advocate to change our broken institutions. We can be allies, every moment of every day, in our personal lives, family lives, and professional lives.

We can also recognize that our work at MHA allows us to create an environment where hope, healing and calm can exist for those who need it most. We can strive to break down barriers, create access, fight back against ignorance, and refuse to accept apathy. We can continue to examine our own policies and practices, and those which are imposed upon us by regulatory agencies, to ensure that they do not perpetuate institutional racism. We can be empathic, compassionate, and expert gatekeepers who do not block anyone’s path to health and wellness. We can focus on the we, for we are so much more powerful together.

Please know that during this terrible time I am committed to all of us speaking our truth, offering empathy, and listening compassionately. If we can do anything to support your process of self care, or to strengthen our MHA community in the spirit of the work we are blessed to do, please don’t hesitate to say it. I know that each of you contributes to this place, our MHA community, through sharing your talents and expertise, your care and your compassion. And so, I offer you sincere thanks for who you are and all you do.

Zero Suicide Initative

By Stephanie Madison, President & CEO

 

MHA of Rockland is embracing Zero Suicide. Zero Suicide is a commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems that includes a specific set of tools and strategies. It is both a concept and a practice that works to improve care and outcomes for individuals at risk of suicide, aspiring to reduce the number of deaths by suicide to zero. The initiative represents a commitment to client safety, the most fundamental responsibility of health care, and also to the safety and support of clinical staff, who do the demanding work of treating and supporting suicidal clients.

The programmatic approach of Zero Suicide is based upon a model of eight essential elements:

1. Lead – Create a leadership-driven, safety-oriented culture committed to dramatically reducing suicide among people under care. It includes survivors of
suicide attempts and suicide loss in leadership and planning roles.
2. Train – Develop a competent, confident, and caring workforce.
3. Identify – Systematically identify and assess suicide risk among people receiving care.
4. Engage – Ensure every individual has a pathway to care that is both timely and adequate to meet his or her needs. Include collaborative safety planning and
restriction of lethal means.
5. Treat – Use effective, evidence-based treatments that directly target suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
6. Transition – Provide continuous contact and support, especially after acute care.
7. Improve – Apply a data-driven quality improvement approach to inform system changes that will lead to improved patient outcomes and better care for those at risk.

We are enormously grateful that three members of our staff have been trained in the initiative, and will be serving as our Zero Suicide Champions. Our launch has begun with an organizational assessment and a workforce survey that will result in data for analysis to improve staff training and client services. We will also be engaging in a nationwide Zero Suicide Community, collaborating with other health care and behavioral health providers, receiving technical assistance, sharing challenges and success stories. We are inspired to embrace the difficult work ahead as we continue to provide trauma informed care, reduce stigma, educate the public, and create healthier communities.

Mental Illness is a Liar!

Mental Illness is a Liar! Let me say that again, mental illness is a liar.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that all those thoughts that we carry around with us, “No one cares about me”, “My life is meaningless”; “If I don’t touch the doorknob 5 times something bad will happen”, “I can control my substance use” are examples of distortions of reality.  A person is considered having a mental illness when those thoughts cannot be controlled over a long period of time.  Most of us will never know what it is like to truly have a mental illness and that is a blessing.  Mental illness is persistent over time and across all areas of one’s life.

 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss mental illness in our society. One of the core values of the United States is the idea that people should be independent, that they should be able to stand alone and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  This principle can sometime lead to isolation and resistance toward getting help by those who have a mental illness.  Therapy and medication management are considered tools for the weak minded, yet other equally biological conditions have no stigma, no sense of shame attached that deter people from getting appropriate medical attention.

 

In this age of scientific vigor, we are learning more and more about how our brain works and we are isolating factors that help us determine who is at risk to develop a mental illness. We are learning which experiences lead to long term emotional dysregulation and thought distortions.  We are learning which treatment approaches show promise and for which conditions.  We have begun to shape treatment around these evidence-based practices.  All this scientific data will mean nothing if people are too afraid to seek help.

 

Stigma is one of the enemies of treatment for mental illness. It is the chain that stops us from getting help.  It is the fear that we will only be seen as our disorder or that people will be afraid of us that keeps many from seeking the help that is needed.  There have been a brave few in the public eye that have acknowledged their diagnoses and who have tried to stop the tide of stigma from consuming all in its path.  The cure for stigma is to acknowledge those will mental illness and to see them as they are flawed but worthy of care, concern and our deepest regard.

My name is Lynda Guzman, I am the ACT Team Leader and have a Posttraumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis. PTSD is a disorder that means that something harmful happened to me and left me with emotional scars that were outside the realm of what could normally be expected. I suffered for years with flashbacks and nightmares, heightened anxiety and depression.  I have used both medication and evidenced-based strategies to manage my symptoms to the point that I am considered well into recovery.

 

When I sit with my clients and I hear their stories I have an insight into what it is like to have a mental illness. I know how difficult it is to motivate yourself to try something new, to have faith that an intervention will work, or even that they might not feel as though they are worthy of being helped.  I draw from myself all those good and bad experiences that I have had to bring hope and optimism to the equation.  I remember what it felt like to be lied to by my mental illness, to think that no one cared or would ever care about me.  Although these are distant memories for me, I realize that they are the everyday reality for some of our recipients.  We all have the potential to recover and live productive, meaningful lives.  If you have symptoms or know someone who does, please know that we are here for you.  We will help you onto the road of recovery.

By Lynda Guzman, ACT Team Leader

Springtime Challenge

Springtime Challenge

 

Myth – the rate of suicide goes up in the winter.

Fact – the suicide rate goes up in the spring.

 

 

This reality seems counter-intuitive.  After all, isn’t Spring the time when we can at last go outside and bask, hike, eat, camp, bike, walk, bird-watch and all that in the radiance and warmth of the glowing sun?

Scientists have puzzled over this for years.   Many possible explanations abound, including highly physiological ones, such as one proposing that an inflammatory response may be the cause.

There is good reason to pursue these ideas, but there could be a combination of effects, as is so often the case in behavioral health.  As a social worker with a background in suicide prevention hotlines, I have heard countless people talk about how they feel more “themselves” on cloudy days and how the sunny days of Spring often leave them feeling depressed.    It has often seemed to me that the outside “mood” of rainy weather was more compatible with their internal states of mind.  This compatibility seemed to be comforting to them.  The coming of Spring, however, seemed jarring to their internal state.  They talked more about wanting meaningful relationships – and they seemed to perceive that everyone else had them.  “After all,” they would point out, “look at all the couples walking hand-in-hand out there.  Look at all the families having picnics.”

In the winter – especially during the holidays –  the radio waves and social media outlets are full of messages of hope and compassion for those who are struggling.  Hence a person feeling outside of the mainstream knows that he/she has company.  Not so in Spring.  This season is expected to cure our emotional woes.  For many people who struggle through depression, this unfulfilled promise is deeply disappointing and may trigger thoughts of earlier let-downs.

How can we help our loved ones feel better when they seem not to join the celebration of Spring?  First, it helps simply to recognize that we don’t all react the same way to the new season.  Second, showing someone that you’ve noticed their struggle, and by extension that you’ve noticed them, can make a huge difference.   A gentle invitation (without advice) to take a walk, or perhaps to do something indoors like going out for lunch, can make a difference.  Any way that you can show this person in your life that you notice them, see their struggle, and want to help in a way that’s comfortable for them will go a long way.  If you’re feeling pushed aside when you do this, then it might be helpful for you to find some professional support and guidance on how best to assist.

 

At MHA we offer lots of support to individuals who are living through behavioral health challenges.  We also assist their families and friends.  Most of that help is free.  For more information, please call us at 845-267-2172, x296.

 

 

 

 

My Friend’s Depression is not Going Away. What Should I Do?

It is hard to see a friend you care about sink into sadness or withdrawal and to not know what to say or do to help. Depression is a serious but treatable disorder that affects 1 out of every 10 people over their lifetime. It causes tremendous pain for the individual suffering from depression and the people close to them too.

The first step to help is to understand. Depression is not feeling blue for a week or two, but is more intense and lasts longer. The signs and symptoms of depression are different for each person, but can include the following:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, irritable or excessively crying without an apparent cause
  • Losing interest in activities that you had enjoyed in the past
  • Losing or gaining weight unintentionally
  • Sleeping poorly or oversleeping
  • Having less energy or feeling lethargic
  • Having persistent feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Having trouble making decisions or concentrating
  • Having thoughts of suicide or death
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

Depression affects a person’s attitude and beliefs. When a depressed individual says “no one cares for me” or “nothing will ever change”, these comments need to be viewed as symptoms of their depression.

Remember that depressed people aren’t lazy. They are ill. Everyday activities like going to work or school, cleaning the house, paying bills or feeding the dog may seem overwhelming to them. Just like someone with the flu they may not feel up to it and need your help.

Your friend may not recognize that they are depressed or they may feel that they can “tough it out” or overcome what they are feeling by willpower alone. As a friend the best thing for you to do is to listen to them, provide hope and to be there for your friend. It is generally not helpful to give advice or to suggest that they “can snap out of it” or try to “fix” them. If your friend expresses that they are not depressed or don’t need your help, don’t push them to acknowledge their problem, but instead continue to keep in touch with them.

If your friend is currently receiving professional help, support their treatment, and if they had not sought help, suggest that they seek help by a mental health professional. Most people suffering from depression can be treated by psychotherapy or a combination of psychotherapy and medication. If they do not begin to improve within 6 to 8 weeks, suggest that they speak with their doctor or another mental health provider for a consultation.

If your friend begins to express any hints about harming themselves or others, you should contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Trying to help someone who is depressed can be draining and stressful for you so remember that you didn’t cause the depression and it is also important to take care of your own emotional health.

For more information about community resources, call MHA’s Client and Family Advocate at 845-267-2172, ext. 296.

Jerry Marton, L.C.S.W.

ACT Team Leader

ACT offers a team-approach that engages people in their communities – providing much of the support and care in people’s homes and neighborhoods.  The program is designed for individuals who have not found enough success in more traditional settings.