Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Continuing Conversations on Addiction

On April 26, Newark City Schools Superintendent Doug Ute kicked off “Starting Conversations,” an amazing day of activities bringing people from many facets of Licking County together to talk about addiction and how it impacts Licking County residents.
Doug’s eyes were open to the issue through a personal experience when one of his children became addicted and he is willing to share that for the greater good of our community. Add to that the frequency with which he saw grandparents in the NCS administration building registering for school the grandchildren they have custody of because their adult children have addictions, and Doug knew the time had come to get anyone and everyone involved.
The Sam Quinones book "Dreamland" was the focus of Starting Conversations. The book is an investigative reporter’s perspective of how our country came to have a problem with prescription drug and heroin abuse. It’s a fascinating read about the perfect storm that resulted in today’s addiction issues. Those issues are happening right here in Licking County, and they affect people from every walk of life.
Throughout the day, community leaders of businesses, agencies and school districts, organizations, students and families joined NCS for conversations around drug addiction. Speakers included Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Jennifer Lloyd, director of Drug Abuse Outreach Initiatives for Attorney General Mike DeWine and Wayne Campbell, founder of Tyler’s Light, talked about efforts to help people in our state with addiction, the use of Narcan and the story of Tyler Campbell, who lost his life to addiction.
If you missed the NCS events, there are more opportunities for you to become educated about what is occurring in your back yard. Through the Licking County Community Blueprint process, which identified behavioral health including drug addiction as a top priority, Hope In Action forums are being held around the county to provide information and resources to anyone with an interest.
I hope you’ll join me, Kay Spergel of Mental Health and Recovery for Licking & Knox Counties and several others as we facilitate “Hope for Recovery – Understanding Mental Health and Addiction Issues 101” at 6 pm on one of the following: Wednesday, May 17 at Etna Township Administration Building, 81 Liberty Street, Etna; Wednesday, May 24 at Newark Public Library, 101 W. Main Street, Newark; or Wednesday, June 14 at Buckeye Lake Public Library, 4455 Walnut Road, Buckeye Lake.
We’ll be talking about drug addiction and the wear and tear of everyday stressors on our lives, as well as mental health and suicide. These are concerns that are swirling around our community and impact us all. What is being done to address these issues? How do we cope and where do we turn for help? Join us as we discuss the resources available in the community that begin to address these concerns.
Penny Sitler is the executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County.
Found in The Newark Advocate May 16, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Would You Know When You’ve Gone Too Far?

By Penny Sitler
Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. But people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem. Sometimes people—especially young people—struggling with mental health concerns develop habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path toward crisis.

This May is Mental Health Month and Mental Health America of Licking County (MHALC) is raising awareness of Risky Business (#riskybusiness). The campaign is meant to educate and inform individuals dealing with a mental health concern understand that some behaviors and habits can be detrimental to recovery—or even mask a deeper issue—and that seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of.

Take the interactive quiz at www.mentalhealthamerica.net/whatstoofar and tell us when you think behaviors or habits go from being acceptable to unhealthy. MHALC wants everyone to know that mental illnesses are real, that recovery is always the goal and that even if you or someone you love are engaging in risky behavior, there is help. It is important to understand early symptoms of mental illness and know when certain behaviors are potentially signs of something more. We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness and do so in a compassionate, judgement-free way.


When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early and provide effective treatment Before Stage 4. So, let’s talk about what is and is not risky business. Let’s understand where it’s important to draw the line, so that we can address mental illness B4Stage4, and help others on the road to recovery. For more information, visit http://mhalc.org.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Always Offer Your Help

By Penny Sitler
Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

I’d like to share a story that illustrates why it’s so important to be mindful of our mental health.
I was recently with a group of 27 high school juniors from all over Licking County who had chosen to hear about minding their mental health as they prepare to launch their adult lives. They were all chatting and engaged when one young man said, “I signed up for this session because I have mental health issues.”
Immediately, the room became so still I could have heard a pin drop. I thanked that brave boy for sharing and then asked the others why they got so quiet all of a sudden. “Because I’m embarrassed for him,” came one reply. Someone else said, “It’s scary.”
I explained that that in our country, one in three people their age (up to age 24) and one in five adults experience a mental health issue every year. What is there to be embarrassed or afraid of when it’s such a common experience?
I asked them what they would have said if he had disclosed, “I have a broken arm.” Would they have gone silent? “Of course not. I’d ask to sign his cast,” someone called out. “Or I’d ask him if he needs help carrying his backpack.”
Then I asked them what they thought would happen if someone with a broken arm waited years before seeing a doctor. Their answers included: “It wouldn’t heal right.” “He may never be able to use his arm again.” “It would hurt.”
In the United States, on average people wait 10 years from onset of symptoms to diagnosis for mental health issues. They’re often embarrassed, scared or they don’t recognize that what is happening to them is an illness. Think of how much better the outcomes would be for people if they would get treatment for their mental illness as soon as it begins to emerge. I encouraged the group of high schoolers’ generation to be the beginning of change and for them to start responding the same way to people with mental health concerns as they do to someone with a physical illness.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us would be open minded enough to recognize that someone with a mental illness is a person needing care and concern? My hope is that one day, anyone with a mental health condition will feel secure enough, knowing that they won’t be ostracized or avoided. They will be comfortable enough to speak out and let those around them know what they’re experiencing and ask for assistance. And I hope those around them will respond by asking what is needed and how they can help, just as we all do for people with broken bones, cancer, heart disease and any other physical illness. Let’s change the conversation so everyone gets the help they need. After all, there no health without mental health.
Published in The Newark Advocate March 25, 2017 

Monday, March 6, 2017

What’s up with you? I see signs of trouble

By Penny Sitler
Executive Director for Mental Health America of Licking County

Haven’t you loved the mild winter? My bulbs anticipate an early spring - they’ve already popped six inches above ground. Everyone seems to be in a great mood thanks to lots of sunshine. Yet for some, all of the fresh air and fun in the world doesn’t bring a smile to their faces. Some people can’t get past the depths of depression or the weight of anxiety.

Licking County has had its first suicide of the year. The saddest thing I’ve heard is when someone close to a person who has taken his/her life tells me about behavior that are signs and symptoms of mental health issues, and that person didn’t recognize it as a telltale sign that something is wrong. There’s no one to blame for the missed signal but it makes me realize that our work educating everyone about what to look for and how to react isn’t done.

Many of the symptoms are physical – someone who is depressed may feel sluggish, exhausted, nauseated or achy. This sounds like the flu, doesn’t it? A person experiencing anxiety might have chest pain, the shakes or shortness of breath, symptoms which could easily be mistaken for a heart attack. Withdrawing from friends and family, dropping out of regular activities, losing interest in hygiene and expressing hopelessness or self-criticism all indicate potential issues.

How can you help when someone exhibits such signs and symptoms? If symptoms last for two weeks or more, encourage a visit to see a doctor. If it’s the flu or another physical illness, the physician will probably prescribe rest, fluids and medicine. If it’s a mental health issue, most doctors will recognize the difference and provide appropriate treatment and referrals to mental health professionals as well as suggestions for self-help including support groups and self-care.

In the case of a possible heart attack, don’t hesitate to call 911. If the person has never had an anxiety attack before, don’t take any chances. If there is a history of anxiety attacks, stay calm, encourage slow and steady breathing, and be a reassuring presence to the person until the symptoms abate, normally within ten minutes.

Be alert to unusual behavior in family members, friends and co-workers. If someone stops taking part in normal activities, wants to sleep all the time or consistently shows up late to work or school, take time to ask if everything is okay. Be persistent and if you’re not comfortable asking, tell someone else about your concerns. Our county’s 211 Crisis Hotline and Information Center is a rich resource that is available 24/7. Call 211 on speaker phone with the person you’re concerned for and explain the situation to a specialist who will suggest some options.

Above all, if there is someone you have a gut feeling about, trust your instincts. Don’t dismiss or ignore comments about feeling worthless or helpless or a sudden interest in death and dying. If someone starts giving away prized possessions or after a period of depression is suddenly happy, it could mean that the person has made a decision to end his/her life.

Please reach out to let that person know what you’ve noticed, that you care and are concerned. Help is available and there is no reason for someone to be alone with mental health struggles. Letting someone know you are there for them could be just what they need to start on the path toward getting help.

Mental Health America of Licking County is here to assist if you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues. Give us a call at 740-522-1341 or take an online mental health screening at www.mhalc.org. Remember, one in five adults in the United States will have mental health concerns this year. Help is available and there’s no reason to be embarrassed or afraid to ask for it.

Penny Sitler is Executive Director of Mental Health America of Licking County.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Paint and Peers — An Afternoon with COMPEER

By Chelsea Olms (Mental Health America of Licking County Intern/ Ohio State University Student)

“The mission of Compeer is to reduce the isolation and stigma for individuals who experience mental illness, with a commitment to enhance mental health recovery and holistic wellness and increase their community reintegration and inclusion through friendship, meaningful involvement and service.”       —MHALC Website

While driving to the Art Journaling class organized by Mental Health America of Licking County’s (MHALC) Compeer Program, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. In my head, I had imagined a group of people sitting around tables doing art pieces in relative quiet, maybe even with some sort of sullen air. I had also imagined a lot of personal support happening between Shari Johnston (the program coordinator) and members attending the class.

There was definitely a group of people sitting around tables doing art, but that was the only thing my imagination had gotten right.

The group at Compeer wasn’t sullen or quiet at all. In fact, the entire 2-hour class was filled with laughter, collaboration, and general chatting. The members shared their weeks with one another, congratulating successes and encouraging each other to keep going in the right direction. They gave each other meaningful advice, and showed each other a relatability that is unique to the group.

Shari participated in the discussions as well, giving advice and helping to encourage everyone while she worked on a painting of her own. But, it wasn’t the personal support session I had imagined at all. While there was definitely self-help of a sort taking place, it was as a group, and it seemed so much more productive and beneficial to everyone.

In fact, I even participated in the class, doing what Shari called a “passion board,” which is a square of cardstock that you can fill with whatever you want. I enjoy painting, so that’s what I spent my time doing. I could really see, just from that short time, how this program can really work as a form of self-help and support for Compeer members. It was very mood-lifting to paint and listen to all of the members joking with one another, and watching them share their creative pieces with the group.

From passion boards and portrait work, to learning to crochet and petting a wonderful therapy dog, the art class had a little something for everyone to do. There are coloring pages if you prefer that, and even regular paper and pens if you just want to write.


The group was incredibly welcoming, and the atmosphere was that of exactly what MHALC and Compeer strive for—a community of support and acceptance.