Sunday Column: Mental Health Awareness Week

 

As originally published in The State Journal-Register.  Read original.

One in five teenagers and adults in America are struggling with their mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to a close, we know how important it is that the conversation be continued.

United Way of Central Illinois currently invests $271,852 from its Community Fund into six health-focused programs.

Of those six programs, four specifically address mental health issues: Family Service Center’s Behavioral Health Prevention Program; Lutheran Child and Family Service’s Counseling Program; Memorial Behavioral Health’s Springfield Children’s Center; and SIU Center for Family Medicine’s Community Mental Health Team. These programs work together to provide a solid support system for those in our community who are at risk of mental illness.

The Behavioral Health Prevention Program is a trial program that seeks to expand the current State-supported Specialized Foster Care program. Services include teaching communication skills, resiliency, positive feeling expression and identification, anger-management skills and how to empathize and connect with other people.

Lutheran Child and Family Service’s Counseling Program provides a full, evidence-based treatment approach to support people who have a wide range of needs, such as dealing with trauma stemming from child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, sexual assault, physical assault, accidents and disasters. With the help of United Way, the Counseling program is increasing the number of individuals who are accessing treatment and becoming stable.

The Springfield Children’s Center is the largest provider of mental health services for children who have mental, behavioral and emotional disorders in Central Illinois. They work on a walk-in or referral basis to provide data-based plans, personalized therapeutic treatment and 24-hour crisis intervention to stabilize a child’s condition and keep them from an unnecessary hospital stay. The child’s family is also provided education and skills to address and work on the child’s mental health issues.

The Community Mental Health Team Program is a joint effort between SIU Center for Family Medicine, Helping Hands of Springfield, Springfield Police Department, Springfield Fire Department and recovery courts. The program determines those who are most at risk of mental health issues based on their previous high use of emergency services, and then helps these individuals by connecting with and engaging them into leading healthy lives.

The great work these programs achieve means little without community understanding and awareness of the problem, however. Mental illness can be difficult to talk about due to social stigma and a lack of awareness and understanding of the issues, which can delay recovery efforts for those suffering. For many, mental illness discussions may be uncomfortable because of how difficult it can be to relate to a loved one’s experiences. This is why it is important to not only keep the dialog going, but to share the stories of those who have lived and thrived through their illness.

For example, six-year-old Mickie has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to a history of trauma, and has been getting treatment from Memorial Behavioral Health’s Springfield Children’s Center for the past two years. When she began services, she was having difficulty controlling her behavior at home and school. When she became upset or was told “no,” she would scream and argue with her parents.

Mickie’s therapist explains that since she has been in therapy, she more easily follows rules and respects adults. At home, she is able to use the coping skills she has learned in treatment and is now able to communicate better. Psychiatric medications have been an essential part of Mickie’s recovery. At school, she is able to sit in her chair and be respectful, which is a major improvement. Mickie’s parents have also participated in the Parent Group at Springfield Children’s Center and have applied the skills they’ve learned to help manage Mickie’s challenging behaviors.

Without the crucial services funded by United Way of Central Illinois, Mickie, and so many others like her, would not get the help needed to live happy, productive lives.

We can all help those in our community with mental health issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness explains that becoming educated on the topic of mental health and listening to the people with lived experience, without giving uninvited advice, goes a long way toward their own acceptance and healing.

The stigma that comes with mental illness is a barrier to those who need to reach out for help the most, and by simply listening and validating the sufferer’s experiences, we can lift that burden and help that person move toward a healthier, happier life.

But there is more we can do. During this campaign season, consider a gift to United Way and help us fight for the Basic Needs, Education, Financial Stability and Health of every citizen in our community. 100% of your investment goes directly to the local programs that create positive, ongoing change in the lives of those who live right here in Springfield.

John Kelker is the president at United Way of Central Illinois. Look for United Way columns regularly in the Springfield Journal-Register.


United Way fights for the basic needs, education, financial stability, and health of every person in our community. Each of these issue areas build on the others to create a good quality of life, and when one or more of these issue areas are not met, the person and the community as a whole suffers.

The great work achieved by the programs discussed above means little without community understanding and awareness of the problem, however. Mental illness can be difficult to talk about due to social stigma, which can delay recovery efforts for those suffering.

 

People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and even discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult. Stigma is when someone, or you yourself, views you in a negative way because you have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as shame that can be felt as a judgement from someone else or a feeling that is internal, something that confuses feeling bad with being bad. – NAMI

 

For many, mental illness discussions may be uncomfortable because of how difficult it can be to relate to a loved one’s experiences. This is why it is important to not only keep the dialog going and to share the stories of those who have lived and thrived through their illness. We can all help those in our community with mental health issues. Educating ourselves on the topic of mental health and listening to the people with lived experience, without giving uninvited advice, goes a long way toward their own acceptance and healing.

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