namihernan : August 29, 2018 1:56 pm : Blog, Breaking News
My last depressive episode left me completely isolated. I didn’t respond to messages for months. Since I didn’t know how long I would be depressed, answering the question “how are you?” became emotionally draining. Actually, that one question was why I stopped talking to people entirely.
“How are you?” is such a knee-jerk opening line to a conversation; most of us don’t even realize we’re saying it, or pay much attention to the typical response of, “I’m good.” But I wasn’t good, or even okay, and saying it just to get past that question felt like a lie I didn’t want to explain.
I never would’ve guessed that I could go such a long period of time without talking to anyone. I know now how painful it was for those who cared about me not to hear anything despite their repeated attempts to reach out.
Peer support—“peer” defined both as friends and as those who identify as having mental illness—can be profoundly helpful to the recovery process and to help keep symptoms at bay. I could’ve really benefited from this kind of support during my depression, but my lack of communication with my friends and family led me to struggle in silence.
Feeling Empathy For Those Who Are Trying
When that dark cloud finally lifted, I was intrigued by how difficult it was for me to communicate with the people I cared about during my episode. I didn’t want to go through that again. I wanted to learn how to be better at communicating, especially in the thick of a depressive episode.
So I read the book, “There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.” It includes many wonderful examples of how and when to say or do something, and when it’s best to say nothing at all and just listen. It’s a relatively short, easy read considering the depth of knowledge it contains about difficult conversations. Some of the scenarios included made me cringe as I reflected on things I’ve said that were less than ideal.
This book was immensely helpful in learning empathy for those trying to make a connection with me during my episode. I learned that my negative reaction to my friends asking me how I was doing was because depression had changed my perception. The book helped me understand that people might say uncomfortable or insensitive things—“how are you doing?”—when they are genuinely trying to connect but don’t know what to say or what may negatively impact someone.
Learning Essential Communication Skills
I also learned how I could be a better support system for my friends facing adversities, because we all end up being the supportive friend at one time or another. Conversations are a two-way street, even if one person is doing most of the talking. How you listen and respond can change the tone and outcome of a conversation. In “There is No Good Card for This,” you can find out what type of listener you are and what you can do to improve or change the way you respond. This can help build confidence during a difficult conversation.
Here are a few tips from the book to start working on:
- Don’t judge or assume. People deal with life’s hurts in various ways. It’s easy to say how we would behave in a friend’s situation, but trust that your friend is doing what’s best for him/her, even if you don’t agree with it.
- Listening speaks volume about how much you care. It can be much easier to listen than to find the perfect thing to say. Try to avoid asking clarifying questions or offering suggestions and anecdotal stories in an attempt to connect unless you know this is what your friend wants. If unsure, ask if he or she would prefer for you to listen for support or brainstorm helpful next steps.
- Small gestures make a big difference: Some people are better at showing they care than expressing it in words. Clipping coupons for everyday essentials, preparing and delivering their favorite meal, or gifting a massage are just a few examples.
Realizing Mistakes Are Just Learning Opportunities
At the end of the day, just knowing my friends cared enough to reach out meant the world to me. I isolated myself because I felt emotionally fragile and didn’t want to be asked how I was doing. I still wanted to cheer and root for them, and to tell them how proud I was of them despite my depression; I just didn’t want them to ask how I was because I was still trying to figure that out. I now know that I could have expressed that sentiment, and my friends would have understood. It sounds so easy in hindsight, but I couldn’t even get past “how are you?” to tell them.
Please know that you are not alone if you’ve ever felt like this, and if you would like to talk to someone without fear of judgment, please call the NAMI HelpLine for references to mental health resources—including support groups—in your area or online. If you’d like to speak with a trained peer support specialist, the NAMI HelpLine can also give you a local number that you can call 24/7.
Traditional classrooms do not include courses with the sole purpose of teaching emotional intelligence, sensitivity and empathy, so those lessons tend to come from life experience. It’s important to remember to be kind to yourself and others as you navigate through difficult situations. Look back on mistakes as learning opportunities.
I have learned through this experience that if someone is reaching out to you, their heart is probably in the right place, even if they can’t find the “right” words.
Keiko Purnell is a NAMI HelpLine Volunteer.
namihernan : July 11, 2018 4:07 pm : Blog, Recovery
Despite what you may have been told, mental illness is treatable. But it can’t be done alone. Collaboration among all types of stakeholders, including the community, is imperative. From hospitals and housing agencies to the justice system, care providers and beyond—if we want to increase mental health awareness, break stigma and help those struggling access treatment, whole community engagement is critical.
I live in North Carolina, where more than 500,000 people receive mental health care each year. And as a community engagement specialist for Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, I have witnessed firsthand how empowered communities can significantly help those with mental illness or those in a mental health crisis.
Mobilizing community service organizations, such as faith-based organizations, social service agencies and food pantries, is key to helping individuals find and receive the unique mental health services and assistance they need. These organizations can also activate other community stakeholders, such as law enforcement, school systems and emergency medical services, to build the positive support system that’s so essential for mental health care.
To build this kind of empowered community united around mental health care, we must first effectively educate organizations to better address mental health issues. One program in particular that helps do this is called Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). I teach this eight-hour course in my area and it has helped North Carolina’s community organizations immensely.
The Impact Of Community Care
In MHFA classes, people get a better understanding of how to recognize and offer initial aid to someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis (or are in an escalating panic situation). Attendees are shown how to ask if a person is distressed, and how to intervene on their behalf. Instructors explain that attendees should react to their instincts if they think something is wrong: You do not have to be a doctor or specialist to help people get the mental health care they need.
That being said, MHFA courses also spell out a clear, five-step action plan to help individuals in crisis connect with the right professionals and peers. The course also covers any community resources available, as access to care is a crucial piece of the puzzle. All the training in the world will have little impact if the person in crisis never accesses mental health care.
In addition to preparing individuals to address mental illness, programs like MHFA can also deepen the integration of care among various community agencies that serve people with mental illness. In North Carolina, for example, several agencies have added MHFA courses to their new-hire curriculum, making it part of the skillset needed for the job. Some examples include:
- The Chapel Hill Police Department– includes MHFA as part of basic law enforcement training that takes place before any new recruit goes into the field
- UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill– trains volunteers as part of a program designed to support individuals with mental illness who are waiting for treatment in the emergency department
- Alamance Community College– integrated MHFA as an added training to their detention certification course for people training to become a detention officer.
Programs like MHFA that provide direct, in-person training and engagement are the first step in strengthening community support networks for everyone, but especially for those with mental illness. This type of support network provides the best chance to avert mental health crises and connect those in need to key resources, opening the door for them to become thriving members of society.
By adopting these kinds of programs and actively partnering with community stakeholders, we can change policies, procedures and mindsets. We can unify neighborhoods, break stigma and make an impact—one community at a time.
Meredith Peffley is a Community Relations Specialist at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. She was the Women’s Resource Center in Alamance County as the Director of Development and Community Relations. Meredith obtained her bachelor’s degree in Finance and Management from Defiance College followed by a Masters of Public Administration degree from George Washington University. She is also a certified trainer for Mental Health First Aid (adult, youth, veteran and law enforcement), QPR, a suicide prevention training, and is a certified trainer for a GAINS Center’s curriculum “How Being Trauma-Informed Improves Criminal Justice System Responses.” She has trained more than 5,000 community members on Behavioral Health related topics.
Mike Armani rode in the back seat of a Ford van one morning last week, on his way to Vincent House in Pinellas Park and — he hoped — to his main goal.
“I just really want a job,” said Armani, 29, of Spring Hill.
Finding jobs is the specialty of Elliott Steele, 69, who guided the van down the Suncoast Parkway, and his wife, Dianne, 67, who sat in the passenger seat.
They are the founders of Vincent House, which they were driving to on the way to their main goal: creating a similar center of support and employment — to be called Vincent Academy Adventure Coast — for Hernando and Pasco county residents with mental illnesses.
The Steeles were greeted like stars by a crowd of staffers when they walked into the atrium of Vincent House, an 8,000-square-foot stucco building with shaded, neatly tended grounds that stands out as a refuge in the sprawl of Pinellas Park.
They founded Vincent House at a nearby location in 2003, after their daughter, Athena, was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a college student.
They saw that people with a mental illness need employment for the same reasons as everyone else — money to live independently, self-esteem, a sense of purpose. Yet finding it is nearly impossible without support.
Vincent House, a non-residential facility, surrounds its members with people like them, staffers and fellow clients whom they can talk to about panic attacks or side effects of medications or illness-related gaps in work history — or the look in the eyes of some employers when they hear words such as “bipolar” or “schizophrenia.”
It gives them a chance to gain experience as food-service or computer workers. It trains them on how to fill out applications and interview for jobs. And it gives them an extra level of support in their first step into the work world, “transitional employment” — a six- to nine-month period when they are assigned a Vincent House staffer who trains them on the job and shows up for them on days when they just can’t make it.
“That way we can guarantee employers that somebody will cover every shift,” Elliott said.
“I like that, what he was talking about, transition,” said Armani.
He was a good student at Ridgewood High School in New Port Richey, he said. After graduation, he worked for several years at BayCare Behavioral Health, filing medical records. He had a steady girlfriend and took graphic design classes at Pasco-Hernando State College.
But he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2012. And though medications control the symptoms, he wasn’t able to hold on to his last job, at a Spring Hill plastics manufacturer.
After a promotion to materials handler, which required him to operate a forklift and mix chemicals, anxieties mounted on the job and off — worries about whether he could handle the work — and prevented him from sleeping. It was all the worse, he said, because he didn’t feel he could tell his bosses about his illness.
“It was kind of a little too much for me,” he said.
He left last July and hasn’t worked since. And though he has been assigned a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the New Port Richey office of CareerSource Pasco Hernando, he said, her heavy case load keeps her from giving him much individual attention. He takes a long walk every day and reads books, including the novels of Stephen King, and attends regular meetings at NAMI Hernando.
But too much of the time, “I just sit around the house,” he said. “I actually don’t care that much about making money. I’m just looking for a place that works with your illness and lets you give back to the community.”
Bob Dillinger, the Pinellas-Pasco public defender and a founding member of the Vincent House board, was asked to list programs available for people like Armani in Hernando.
“That’s easy to answer — hardly any,” Dillinger said. “Less than Pasco. And Pasco has less than Pinellas.”
Which is why the Steeles have come out of retirement to help build the Vincent Academy in Hernando. The Hernando County Commission has donated an 8-acre site on Forest Oaks Boulevard, and NAMI is raising money and seeking a $1 million state grant for construction.
Meanwhile, the $250,000 state grant the project received last year will allow the Steeles to rent a temporary site, hire staffers and begin taking members on regular trips to Vincent House in Pinellas Park, like the one Armani and his friend from NAMI meetings, Justin Marquis, took last week.
Marquis, 33, told the Steeles he’s not ready to start working, but, like Armani, is interested in learning computer skills.
“Take a seat, guys,” member Maria Matta said, getting Marquis and Armani started making their Vincent House ID cards minutes after they walked through the door.
With a click of the mouse, a printer spat out Armani’s plastic card — a photo of him taken in the facility’s green yard against the swirling night heavens of Starry Night, a famous painting by Vincent House’s namesake, Vincent van Gogh.
“That looks great, Mike,” Marquis said.
They ate at a green papaya salad created by the food services workers at Vincent House and spent an hour before and after lunch editing a video advertisement of the facility’s thrift store.
Sitting before a TV-sized, high-definition monitor, they pared raw video into short clips that focused on the shoes, clothes and books available at the store; they added a lively musical score and text to inform viewers of the hours. They did it all under the guidance of member Brendan Robertson.
“Wow! You got to work with the Vincent House’s Martin Scorsese,” assistant director Ligia Gomez told Aramani.
She then asked him what he thought of Vincent House.
“It’s cool. Really good,” he said. “I think you’ve got a really good system, everybody working on something.”