Monday, March 5, 2018

Sitler: Despite suicides, there is hope

By Penny Sitler
Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

The past few weeks have been full of disturbing events close to our home in Licking County. As I’ve mentioned in past articles, MHA facilitates our Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) Team and we have been much too busy so far in 2018.
Multiple young people in their 20’s from several Licking County communities have taken their own lives since the new year began. Any suicides are too many, but to lose so many in such a short time, whether we knew the young people or not, leaves us all with a terrible sadness and sense of regret.
Several of the families who have lost sons have been utterly open in disclosing how they died, acknowledging the pain that depression caused, and asking others to pay attention to those around them and find ways to help someone who suffers from mental illness. One obituary includes the stigma fighting words, “Depression is all-consuming and it’s okay to recognize and discuss the significant impacts and realities.” It goes on to encourage people to show kindness to others they recognize as suffering and to ask for help for themselves when they need it. We know that on average people wait ten years from onset of symptoms of mental illness until they are diagnosed. If we could get people in for assessments in the very early stages of a mental disorder rather than waiting such a long time, imagine the improved outcomes those people would experience.
The Licking Valley community convened a vigil to celebrate the lives of three graduates in their 20’s who took their lives within a four-day period. The purpose of the vigil was to give people an opportunity to mourn and to speak out about the precious lives lost too early. People often need a chance to express their feelings after such tragedy and they need to feel a sense of community as they come to terms with what has happened. Kudos to Licking Valley schools and those who organized the vigil for giving people that safe place to be a part of something larger than themselves. I also applaud them for allowing those of us in the mental health world to provide resources to those in attendance.
If you know someone who seems to need a friend, someone who has become isolated or quit participating in normal activities, or someone who is giving away favorite items, reach out. Ask how you can help. Let them know what you’ve noticed and offer to find resources for them. Call 2-1-1 with them on speaker phone, explain what you’re noticing ask what your next step should be. Text this message: Text 4hope to 741741, the Crisis Text Line, for free confidential 24/7 support. Don’t walk on by. Be that friend you would want someone to be for you.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Facts About Alcohol

by Penny Sitler
Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

Most of us probably weren’t aware that the last week of January is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week but it’s a perfect time to raise awareness of important information about drugs and alcohol. Let me share some of what we know about alcohol use disorder.
Drinking alcoholic beverages is perceived in our culture as a way to relax, socialize or celebrate and the use of alcohol doesn’t automatically mean that someone has a substance use disorder (SUD). However drinking too much or drinking as a way of dealing with problems or pain is commonly called self-medicating and has negative consequences. Warning signs of SUD include being dependent upon alcohol to get through life, having problems at home or work, or having damage to one’s health as a result of the abuse. People with a mood or anxiety disorder are up to three times as likely to also have a substance use disorder, often called co-occurring disorders; 75 percent of SUDs develop by age 27.
Consuming small quantities of alcohol can cause one to relax and lower inhibitions in the moment, but alcohol use can produce short term problems including physical injuries from risky behavior or accidents, aggressive or antisocial behavior and even suicide or self-injury. Alcohol can intensify feelings of anxiety, depression or anger and inhibit the use of effective coping skills. In the long term, heavy alcohol use can lead to serious organ damage and memory problems. Seratonin levels in the brain are altered by alcohol, thereby affecting mood regulation and potentially causing mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Do you know what the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines as one standard drink? It may be a surprise that 12 ounces of regular beer (five percent alcohol by volume [ABV]), eight ounces of malt liquor (seven percent ABV), five ounces of wine (12 percent ABV) and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40 percent ABV) are each considered one drink. The general guidelines advise that men should consume no more than four drinks daily and no more than 14 drinks weekly. Because women’s bodies metabolize alcohol differently, they should consume no more than three drinks in a day or seven drinks total in a week. Of course, pregnant women, people under the age of 21 and people with health conditions or medications that interact with alcohol should not consume any alcohol.
Types of problem drinking include:
  • Heavy drinking, consuming more than the daily or weekly guideline amounts for alcohol.
  • Binge drinking, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, resulting in elevated blood alcohol content (for example, a man who has five drinks in two hours, or a woman who has four drinks in two hours). People who binge drink are especially prone to “blackouts” or lapses in memory.
  • Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, a disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to drink, inability to stop drinking once started, need to drink more and more to feel the effects (increased tolerance) and withdrawal symptoms if one doesn’t consume alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, sweating, nausea or shakiness and can be deadly.
If you or someone you know has signs of SUD, reach out for help to treatment provider Licking Alcoholism Prevention Program (LAPP) at 740-366-7303 – they provide the path to a new day!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Winter Advisory

By Penny Sitler

Happy new year! Now that the holiday hustle and bustle are behind us, people are often faced with stress or loneliness along with high expectations for the new year. Figuring out what helps you stay centered and giving yourself permission to take time out for YOU can make an enormous difference in maintaining good mental health all winter long. Here are some of my favorite self-care tips:

  • Spend quality time with people you enjoy being around, who listen to you, make you laugh and let you know that you are valuable and important to them. It could be a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor or someone from your faith community. We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine. We also know that isolation has a negative impact on our health and well-being so plan times to be with others to help stay happy and healthy.

  • Exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress and burn off any extra pounds from holiday indulgences. Physical activity will help ward off the “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can result from the lack of sunshine this time of year. SAD is very real, especially for those of us in Central Ohio where we experience an average of 180 gray days annually. If you feel depressed during the winter but feel much better in seasons when there is more daylight, you may have SAD. Some signs and symptoms of SAD include lack of energy, sleeping too much and overeating. If you aren’t able to improve your mood through activity, please let your doctor know.

  • Be sure to eat well to keep your energy level up. Healthy soup and salad is a perfect winter meal and now is a wonderful time to use that new recipe that you’ve been meaning to try. Invite a friend who might be spending time alone this winter.

  • Get plenty of sleep. Stick to your normal routine of going to bed near the same time each night and turn off your devices several hours before bedtime. Studies have shown that the blue light from phones and e-readers interferes with our ability to fall asleep so the recommendation is to refrain from using them in bed.
  • Enjoy the little things. Make yourself a cup of tea and browse through photos or holiday cards you received, put together a jigsaw puzzle or curl up with a new book. Start a new project that you enjoy doing: painting, needle work, wood working or planning for your spring garden are a few ideas. Bundle up in your warm winter coat, hat and gloves and walk around your neighborhood. Better yet, ask your neighbor to join you.
  • Practice gratitude by reminding yourself of the genuine gifts you have to be grateful for: life, health, family, friends or support are just a few examples. Use your spare time to volunteer at a local food pantry or a church or shelter where meals are served to those in need. Big Brothers Big Sisters is looking for lunch buddies to meet and read with elementary aged children on a regular basis. There are many other worthy organizations in Licking County who would love to have your assistance! Call me if you need other ideas for getting involved.
Penny Sitler is the Executive Director of Mental Health America of Licking County

Friday, December 1, 2017

What Every Parent Needs To Understand About Teens’ Mental Health

Published in HEALTHY LIVING 
11/17/2017 05:46 am ET

A new report is painting a bleak picture when it comes to teens’ mental health, as well as their access to professional support for those issues.

Data published by the nonprofit Mental Health America shows that rates of severe youth depression have increased from 5.9 percent to 8.2 percent over a five-year period. Half of those screened between the ages of 11 and 17 reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm throughout the course of a week. South Dakota was the state that ranked the “best” in terms of good youth mental health. (The data measured access to treatment as well as prevalence of mental health conditions.) Nevada was ranked as the “worst” state.

Researchers collected public mental health data from each state between 2010 and 2015 (the most recent years of available information) to examine the state of mental health across the country. While they found some dizzying statistics about how adults are faring ― for example, 57 percent of people with a mental disorder did not receive proper treatment over the study period ― researchers were most alarmed by the findings surrounding youth mental health.

“I feel like it’s only something people have started to talk about in the last couple of years, if that,” Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America, told HuffPost. “We’re starting to see data come out that shows not only are youth struggling significantly, but the numbers indicate ― like in our current report ― that the trend is getting worse.”

How access to treatment is failing young people

Although access to services and insurance increased overall from last year’s report, researchers say there’s still not enough people receiving the care they need. This is especially true for teens: More than 76 percent of young people studied who had a major depressive episode ― which equated to approximately 1.7 million kids ― did not receive proper treatment for the issue.

Mental health treatment, whether it be therapy, medication or both, is the most effective way to manage a mental illness. Experts say that in extreme cases, treatment can also mean the difference between life and death.

“I wish I could say the mental health of our children is improving. Our report shows the opposite,” Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, said in a statement. “Far too many young people are suffering ― often in silence. They are not receiving the treatment they need to live healthy and productive lives ― and too many simply don’t see a way out.”

What needs to be done

Experts say parents play a pivotal role in changing the conversation when it comes to their kids’ psychological well-being. Here are a few ways to spot if your kid is dealing with a mental health issue and how to realistically help them through it:

Look out for striking changes in behavior.
Nguyen says that drastic changes in mood ― especially in a month or a shorter period of time ― could be a sign that something bigger is at play. This can include withdrawing from social activities kids once loved, or displaying anger or sadness more than usual. Teens who might be engaging in self-harm may wear longer sleeves, even in warm weather, Nguyen added.

“That’s a huge red flag,” she said. “It’s kind of hard because these things correlate with puberty and sometimes adults are like, ‘Oh, my kid is just going through those shifts.’ It gets hard for parents because this period of time is so muddy.”

Talk about anything you notice.

Make your home an environment where teens feel comfortable approaching you about mental health issues, Nguyen said.

“Talking to your kid is really important,” she explained. “They’re really good at hiding problems ... it’s really good for young kids, especially around puberty, to start having that conversation as you would with sex education.”

Let them know about any family history of mental health issues.

If you or a member of your family has experienced a mental illness, Nguyen says it’s vital that you bring it up with your kids. The more informed they are about their family history, the more likely young adults are to open up if they’re having issues of their own.

“As scary as it is, talking to kids about your own experience is a huge thing a parent can do,” Nguyen said. “Lead by example. Teenagers know a lot more than people give them credit for.”

Looking for more suggestions? Here’s an expert-backed guide on how to talk to your kids about depression.

Remind your child that mental health issues are nothing to feel shame over.

Bottom line: Mental illness deserves just as much attention and care as physical illness. Negative stereotypes surrounding mental health disorders only do more harm.

“It might help to think about [a] health perspective,” Nguyen said. “We wouldn’t be afraid to talk and hear about cancer or diabetes. Why are we afraid to share about mental illness?”

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sitler: Protective Factors Will Help Navigate the Holidays

As we enter the holiday season, I want to remind each of you to focus on your protective factors to get through the festivities stress-free so you can enjoy making memories rather than being frustrated or unhappy. Protective factors are those things that help you rebound from difficulty and face life with an optimistic approach.
I’m fortunate to work closely with an incredible group of creative, confident women who lead non-profits in our community. We recently shared what we do to maintain positive, upbeat attitudes. I knew I needed to share their answers as perfect examples of how to live life well.
“I get to do work that helps people reflect on their own behavior and become their best selves as leaders. I see that humanity does want to get better and I am honored to be part of the work that makes this happen.”
“I volunteer in some ways that allow me to continue to learn and grow, personally and professionally. I also ride my horse! My goal? To become a better rider and help him be a better horse. It's great to pursue excellence in something! The benefits of connection to an animal are well documented.  My riding is also physical exercise. We all know how important that is.”
I stay upbeat and positive through my faith, starting each day with prayer and contemplation. I have a job I truly enjoy and I try to surround myself with positive people.  I spend time with friends who listen and accept me, warts and all! And music always makes me feel better!”
“I practice self-care including quiet time, exercise and mediation/breathing.”
“I am by nature enthusiastic and positive, but I also married the class clown who continues to keep me smiling and keep life in perspective. Additionally, I have been privileged to have worked over 28 years in my field starting with children (it was quite the joyful experience).  As a Director, I live vicariously through my amazing staff and all the great things they do every day to make a difference with our many customers from all walks of life. Life is good.”
“Getting together with family and friends and participating in arts experiences help me stay upbeat and positive!”
“My approach is to find ways to serve others.”
“I have signs in my office that remind me to ‘Believe’. This has been my life word for more than a decade.  It helps me to remember that God is able to handle everything that comes my way. So, I guess the short answer is faith!”
“My family has Sunday dinner together and we say what we are thankful for – always an upbeat positive way to start the week.  Also, I listen to music and go for a drive in new areas.”
“I find my peace in what I do for the next generation of our community.  It’s the best.”
“I don't have a job, I have something that I believe in, and that keeps me upbeat and positive even when the workload and challenges mount.  It’s all part of why I do what I do.”
“I need quiet time to stay centered, but also need to have the regular companionship of family, friends and colleagues like the great women in this group.”
Penny Sitler, is executive director of MHA of Licking County
Found in Then Newark Advocate November 26, 2017