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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Suicide survivors say dialogue is key to prevention

Published Oct. 19, 2017 at 06:51PM
The Union Democrat by Alex Maclean

If given a second chance at life, how would you choose to use it?
Kevin Hines, 36, of Atlanta, and Ken Baldwin, 60, of Angels Camp, are among the rare few who survived attempts at suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Now, both men are speaking out in an effort to keep others from making the irreversible decision to end their own lives.
“We have a massive problem here,” Baldwin said of suicide in the Mother Lode. “It’s rural, the poverty level is significant, there are drugs up here, and all of that produces this bowl of depression.”
The men shared their personal experiences Wednesday night to an audience of roughly 100 at the Bret Harte High School Theater as part of an event organized by the Calaveras County Behavioral Health Division aimed at raising awareness about suicide and offering advice for prevention.
Information about the number of suicides in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties for 2016 were not readily available, but the most recent report by the California Department of Public Health showed the rates of suicide between 2013 and 2015 in both counties were among the highest in the state.
According to the report, the three-year average rate is calculated based on the number of suicides per 100,000.
California as a whole had an average rate of 10.6 suicides a year between 2013 and 2015, while the average rate for Tuolumne County was 19.5 and Calaveras County was 30.8. The actual three-year averages were 10.7 in Tuolumne County and 14 in Calaveras County.
Kaybee Alvarado, community health assistant for the Calaveras County Behavioral Health Division, said studies have shown two of the main reasons suicide rates are higher in rural areas is because of isolation and access to guns.
“That’s across all of the rural counties,” Alvarado said.
That’s why the Calaveras County Behavioral Health Division and other organizations in the community have spearheaded initiatives aimed at reducing the social stigma surrounding suicide and improving open communication about the topic.
Baldwin said he believes fear is the main reason for the stigma that hinders dialogue about suicide.
“Many people are afraid of the word suicide because there’s finality to it,” Baldwin said.
Sparking conversation about suicide was the goal of a community event Wednesday night at the Bret Harte High School theater in Angels Camp, where Baldwin and Hines shared their similar experiences with a crowd who ranged in age from students to senior citizens.
The two first met 10 years ago for a news story about how each had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and survived, but they didn’t see each other again until earlier this year.
Baldwin said he was taken by surprise when he found out that Hines was scheduled to speak at the school where he has worked as a teacher since 1993.
In August 1985, Baldwin jumped from the landmark bridge after struggling with deep depression for years. He had previously attempted to kill himself three years earlier by taking a bottle of sleeping pills mixed with alcohol shortly after the birth of his daughter.
Baldwin’s wife, Ellen, said the couple’s biggest mistake was not talking about his struggles after the first attempt. After jumping from the bridge, Baldwin said he knew that he had to open up to his family.
“Once I was in the hospital bed, I realized I wouldn’t be able to hide this one,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said he still struggles with depression and has bad days, but now he knows he can lean on his wife to help him through it.
“She’s my rock, she’s my hero, she keeps me sane, she keeps me going, she tells me I’m a good person, and I believe her,” Baldwin said. “I’m lucky because some people don’t have someone they can believe in.”
In September 2000, a 19-year-old Hines attempted to take his own life by jumping from the same bridge that Baldwin had jumped from 15 years earlier.
Hines told the audience Wednesday night about his upbringing and long struggles with bipolar disorder prior to the attempt. He said that he openly sobbed on the bus ride to the bridge and while standing on the walkway hoping someone would ask him what was wrong, but no one did.
“Apathy, maybe fear … that’s where I think society has lost its way,” Hines said. “We have forgotten as a society that if we are not anything else on this planet we are one thing — our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
“And you don’t have to have faith in a higher power to know that.” 
Hines spoke with passionate conviction about the importance of being kind to others and peppered his hour-plus speech with humor to lighten the mood and keep people engaged whenever the story took a dark turn.
People shouldn’t feel like they are defined by their own thoughts, Hines said.
“If all of our thoughts became our actions, how many of us would be in jail for road rage?” Hines asked the audience to a show of scattered raised hands, which prompted a joke about how California Highway Patrol officers were taking notes at the event.
“Just because you have thoughts of suicide doesn’t mean that you have to act on them, no matter the pain they cause you,” Hines said. “Our thoughts do not have to own us, define us, or rule the day.”
The goal of his motivational speaking, Hines said, is to let people know that they should express how they feel without fear of judgment and help others understand what to do when others are in crisis.
Hines said the best question people can ask someone who they suspect may be at risk of harming themselves is the most blunt one: Are you suicidal? He believes he likely would not have taken the 220-foot plunge from the bridge if someone had asked him that question.
One effective suicide-prevention program noted by Baldwin was QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade and Refer. Started in 2009, the program aims to provide training in suicide prevention for community “gatekeepers” such as teachers, students, parents, employers and spiritual leaders.
Meanwhile, there is also work underway to install suicide barriers at the Golden Gate Bridge after more than 1,600 deaths since it opened in 1937. Fewer than 30 people are believed to have survived the fall.
Completion of the barriers is anticipated in early 2021.
The number for the national crisis line is (800) 273-8255.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Tips for Teachers: Ways to Help Students Who Struggle with Emotions or Behavior

  1. Start fresh. Other teachers may see your class roster and warn you about a particular student, but if what they have to say is negative it can taint your perception of that student before you have even met them. If you see a conversation starting to go this way, reframe it in a positive light. Ask what worked best, or what that teacher would have done differently if they got to do it over. It’s up to you to develop your own relationship with that student.
  2. Draw on past experiences with students, but don’t necessarily rely on them. The start of the school year brings a fresh crop of children and teenagers with different backgrounds, personalities, and problems. Think about techniques that worked last year for dealing with some of your “difficult” students, but stay open to new approaches.
  3. Put yourself in the right frame of mind. Most students who have emotional or behavioral problems want to be successful in school, but have trouble controlling themselves, focusing, and staying still. Avoid deeming them “attention seekers,” or “slackers.” Work on being as patient as possible.
  4. Expect some disorganization and forgetfulness. Children who are sad, angry, or afraid are probably not too concerned about missing papers or homework assignments. Of 11-17-year olds who took MHA’s Youth Screening, 92 percent reported that they sometimes or often had trouble concentrating, and 91 percent reported that they were sometimes or often easily distracted. If your workload allows, it might be helpful to email homework assignments to parents to keep kids on task, or provide written directions instead of verbal ones so students can refer back to them. If you are using technology in the classroom, use the reminder or task tools that are available.
  5. Reduce classroom stress. Avoid rigid deadlines – try giving homework assignments that are due in two days instead of the following day. Don’t lower grades for non-academic reasons like messy handwriting, especially with younger children. Think of ways to gamify your lessons from time to time so they are more engaging for students who struggle to focus.
  6. Look into evidence-based programs that support social and emotional learning. MHA recommends the Pax Good Behavior Game (especially for younger students), the Positive Action Program, and the Raising Healthy Children Program. These programs use social and emotional learning to deliver outcomes that matter later in life such as less crime, lower rates of public assistance, improved employment opportunities, and higher earning potential. Furthermore, they have demonstrated considerable return on investment.
  7. Find the good and praise it. Children and teens who are struggling with emotional or behavioral problems find school extra hard and often deal with low self-esteem. They may be extra sensitive and much harder on themselves than their peers. Be genuine and generous in your praise and downplay their shortcomings. Assure them that with hard work and practice, they will eventually find difficult assignments easier.
  8. Be familiar with options for accommodations. For children and teenagers who still have trouble despite after school help or chances to correct their mistakes, IEPs and 504 Plans can help structure the unique assistance they need to succeed. Gently suggest these options to parents when appropriate – they may not even know this kind of extra help is available.
  9. Avoid embarrassment. When dealing with a student who is being disruptive, take them aside or out in the hall to explain the problem rather than reprimanding them in front of their classmates. Ensure that they know the problem is with the behavior – not them – and how you expect them to behave moving forward.
  10. Exercise compassion. No special accommodation can substitute for patience, kindness, and flexibility. Teachers bring a great deal of compassion to the table to start with, but it can be easy to let it fall to the wayside when you’ve got a classroom full of 30 students, 4 more lesson plans to get through, and can’t seem to get everyone to stay on the same page. No one expects you to be a saint – just try your best to keep your cool.
  11. Work with parents. Parents may see behaviors at home that you aren’t seeing in school and vice versa. Keeping open lines of communication with parents will create consistency in working with students who have emotional or behavioral struggles and minimize misunderstandings. Make a plan that helps you communicate regularly with parents who need more frequent contact than others so that they're in the loop with what you're seeing in the classroom, and they can fill you in on what's going on at home.
  12. Make time to take care of yourself. Find ways to de-stress on evenings and weekends so you can bring your “A game” to the classroom. You might be the take-a-hot-bath type or you might be the cross fit type – whatever works best for you.
Adapted from Red Flags, “Ways to Assist Students with Depression or Related Disorders.”