Monday, May 7, 2018

Sitler: Don't ignore mental health symptoms

by Penny Silter, Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

Published in The Newark Advocate May 6, 2018

Do you focus on fitness #4Mind4Body? Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. Remember, our heads are attached to our bodies and so much of what we do physically impacts us mentally. It’s important to pay attention to both your physical health and mental health, which can help you achieve overall wellness.
May is Mental Health Month and we at Mental Health America of Licking County (MHA) continue to raise awareness about the connection between physical health and mental health this month through the Fitness #4Mind4Body campaign. We want you to understand about how eating healthy foods, managing stress, exercising and getting enough sleep can go a long way in making you healthier all around. A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, as well as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems. It can also play a big role in helping people recover from these conditions.
Taking good care of your body is part of a #B4Stage4 approach to mental health. With physical health issues, waiting until stage four to get help is detrimental and potentially deadly to our health. Few people would knowingly wait till that point to address physical health conditions like cancer, heart disease or diabetes. Likewise, mental health issues should be dealt with as soon as signs and symptoms emerge, allowing for the best possible outcomes. On average, people wait ten years from onset of symptoms of mental illness before they are diagnosed. That generally doesn’t happen with physical illnesses.
Getting the appropriate amount of exercise can help control weight, improve mental health and help you live longer and healthier. Recent research is also connecting nutrition to mental health, validating the commonly held belief that eating well balanced meals enhances wellness. Sleep plays a critical role in all aspects of your life and overall health. Consistently getting a good night's sleep is critical to having enough physical and mental energy to take on daily responsibilities. And we all know that stress can have a huge impact on all aspects of our health, so it’s important to take time to focus on stress-reducing activities like meditation or yoga, as well as taking time to enjoy your favorite relaxing activities like walking, biking, art, music, playing with pets and spending time with family and friends. Being connected to others, whether it be through family or groups that you enjoy such as a book club or someplace where you volunteer, has been proven to be instrumental in improving our overall wellness.
MHA wants everyone to know that mental illnesses are real, and recovery is always the goal. Living a healthy lifestyle should be the end goal and by looking at your overall health every day – both physically and mentally – you can go a long way to ensure that you focus on your Fitness #4Mind4Body.
Sitler is the executive director of Mental Health of America of Licking County

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Thanks, Kevin Love for speaking on anxiety

By Penny Sitler
Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

Article published in The Newark Advocate March 31, 2018

How many of you have read about Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Kevin Love in the past month?
I’d like to give a shout out to him for publicly speaking up about his recent experiences with panic attacks and anxiety. And kudos to the Cavaliers organization, which encouraged Kevin to see a therapist. I hope several ex-team mates who weren’t so supportive are now aware that their anger may have been misplaced when Kevin missed game and practice time to take care of his mental health.
We never know what someone else may be going through. Kevin Love is not alone, as one in five adults and one in three youth in the U.S. experience mental health issues every year. That’s 20 percent of adults and 33 percent of young people. Do the math – many of you reading this have probably experienced something and I hope you were willing to ask for help. And if it wasn’t you, it may have been a friend or a family member, so I hope you were willing to offer help.
Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss believes that teams should be putting more focus on mental health. “We’ve invested in all these state-of-the-art facilities and cryogenic chambers, hydro pools and all that, but we haven’t focused on mental health,” Buss said in a recent interview with ESPN. “That’s the next level of care.”
While the topic of mental health is at the forefront for the NBA, I hope there will be carryover to every other facet of our society. Mental health disorders do not discriminate. Early identification and intervention are key to treatment for the best outcomes, allowing people to live up to their full potential. Often people don’t realize that their symptoms are caused by a mental health condition or they’re afraid or they feel ashamed to ask for help because of the stigma associated with mental illness. It’s up to all of us to know the signs and take action so that mental illnesses can be caught early and treated. Even though mental illnesses may require intensive, long-term treatment and a lot of hard work at the later stages, recovery is possible.
One way to see if what someone is experiencing may be symptoms of a mental health condition is to take a screening. Visit and click on “Take the Free Mental Health Screening” on the right side of the home page to take a quick, confidential screening for any of nine mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, mood disorders or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Use your screening results to start a conversation with your primary care provider, a trusted friend or a family member and begin to plan a course of action for addressing your mental health.
Remember, mental health conditions are not only common, they are treatable. There is a wide variety of treatment options for mental illnesses and it can take some time for a person to find the treatment plan that is right for them. But when they do, the results can be life changing.
We should all thank Kevin Love for bringing mental health issues into the light in Ohio. My hope is that many people follow his example and get the help they need.

Monday, March 26, 2018

How MHA Delivers Their Programs

by Emily Jesenko
The Ohio State University at Newark Intern

One of my favorite things about being an intern at Mental Health America of Licking County (MHALC) is that I get to visit all of their programs and see their powerful mission in action. Other mental health services and programs may seem unreachable or hard to get to. MHALC is different in that aspect. Not only do they administer informational mental health materials, but they physically go out into the Licking County community to spread their mission of promoting and continuing to reinforce mental health and wellness and eliminating the stigma of mental health issues.

Statistics show that one in five people will have a mental health issue within the year; that is 20%, over 40 million Americans. It is crucial that these programs are available to help break down barriers that may keep them from living their lives well. The United States Census Bureau indicates that 11.7% of Licking County residents are living at or below the poverty level (United States Census Bureau, 2016). Mental Health America’s programs and support groups are free to all Licking County residents.

During the third week of January, Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator Justina Wade, and Development/Program manager Jill Goddard, administered depression screenings to the freshman class at a local high school. Before handing out the test questions, they discussed with each class the seriousness of mental health issues and how left untreated they can lead to depression, stress, anxiety and suicide. After administering the tests, they played the short film called “SAD” which is about different teens struggling with different mental health issues. They asked questions to the students and discussed with them the importance of mental health and how it is just as important as physical health. It was fascinating hearing the responses from the students and knowing that they are getting something important out of this. The depression screenings showed that several students were struggling with depression and/or suicide. Perhaps, some of these students would not have reached out if it weren’t for MHALC delivering these depression screenings.

Recently, Newark City Schools held a Social Emotional Academic Success (SEAS) day throughout the district. MHALC’s Executive Director Penny Sitler, and Jill Goddard, gave presentations all day to high school students about the importance of making good decisions. This was a great topic to present to this age group because teenagers, in particular, tend to turn to alcohol and substances especially when under stress from school and preparation for college.

Another beneficial and very influential program is Girls in Progress (GIP). The GIP program coordinator, Shari Johnston, delivers this program in area middle schools every week. This program focuses on mentoring middle school girls who struggle with a variety of issues. Many of these girls live in poverty and lack supportive home environments. The goal is to inspire and motivate them to make healthy decisions. The girls will express themselves through art as Shari gets to know them and discuss any issues they are having. This is so beneficial for these girls because their young minds are still being molded and GIP can help instill in them better self-esteem, positive future plans, healthy relationships, and mental wellness. When I visited the GIP classes at Liberty, they were still pretty new to the program. Shari had them draw an outline of their head/neck/shoulders and in different sharpie colors write words that describe them. When they were done they were asked to read some of the words they put down. They said things like “Funny, weird, nice, mean, tall, short, strong, weak, artistic, athletic, quiet, or outgoing.” They opened up by using art as an outlet. I could tell that GIP is really going to have a positive influence on their lives.

Suicide Prevention and mental health training is not limited to the classrooms. MHALC staff delivers these trainings to agencies, civic groups, educators, parents, and anyone interested in becoming aware of the signs of depression and suicide. Suicide Prevention program coordinator, Justina Wade, travels around Licking County every day to give presentations about depression and suicide prevention. This will include the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide, how to react to someone who is suicidal, and how to help them. The presentations are very open so people feel comfortable enough to speak out about their own personal experiences.

Another great program for individuals living with a mental health issue is Compeer. The Compeer program coordinator, Donna Lee, travels all over Licking County to join together people living with severe and persistent mental health issues. She provides these individuals with mental health education, nutritional and wellness education, and uplifting community involvement. The mission of Compeer is to reduce the isolation for individuals who experience a mental health issue. Some activities that they do are art therapy, shopping, field trips, and lunches and dinners. Luckily, I was able to attend an art therapy session. A man sat down and showed me his stunning ink drawings. You could tell that he spent countless hours detailing and critiquing his beautiful work. He said to me “Art helps me fight my depression and for that I am so grateful to have a group like this.” Everybody there was so nice and open. It was astonishing watching these people express themselves through art.

One day I went to a presentation given by Penny to a local agency. Her voice was friendly and supportive and she insisted on keeping everything conversational. I was surprised at how attentive and open the workers were. Not only were they asking questions but they were also admitting their own personal issues with mental health whether it is a loved one or themselves. That takes a substantial amount of courage to do in front of your colleagues. It was simply astonishing sitting in a room and watching the stigma break in front of your eyes.


United States Census Bureau. (2016).QuickFacts Licking County, Ohio. Retrieved from

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!