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 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.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Bouncing back from difficulty

By Penny Sitler, Executive Director at Mental Health America of Licking County
Found in The Newark Advocate January 21, 2017

Merriam-Webster’s definition of resilience is an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
As I was pondering the importance of resilience, I came across an October 2016 “People” magazine article by Jeff Nelson about Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton. I have always admired Scott’s incredible talent and his seemingly endless joy and upbeat attitude. He’s fun to watch on the ice and equally interesting to listen to in the broadcast booth, and I can only imagine how engaging he must be as a skating coach. I’ve secretly wished I could witness him on the ice in person and after reading his recent response to what many would see as the unfair hand he’s been dealt, his hero status for me has grown exponentially because of his resilience in the face of another diagnosis of a life-changing illness.
What I didn’t know until reading the article and watching the accompanying video (Google it – he’s astounding) is that Scott was diagnosed last fall for the third time with a brain tumor. Keep in mind, he first faced cancer in 1997 when he fought – and won – a battle against testicular cancer. His previous brain tumor diagnoses were in 2004 and 2010. According to Jeff, Scott’s recent diagnosis is a benign pituitary tumor.
After acknowledging his deep faith, Scott says he always, no matter what happens, celebrates life. ‘“The first thing I teach skaters at my skating academy is how to get up — because we’re going to fall,” Hamilton says. “And that’s how I live my life: I’m going to fall down, I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to do all kinds of things that I’m going to wish didn’t happen. But it’s what’s next — it’s how you get up … The more times you get up, the stronger you are to face the next thing, which will happen — because that’s life.”’
What a lesson for all of us. No matter what comes at you, whether it’s illness, family issues, disappointment at school or on the job, do what you must to deal with the situation and then figure out how to move on.
How do you develop a personal strategy for dealing with life’s difficulties? What behaviors, thoughts and actions that result in resilience can be learned by each of us? Here are some suggestions:
Make connections. Feeling connected through relationships with friends, family or others and actively participating in community groups including civic and faith-based organizations helps strengthen resilience.
Accept change. Life is full of change and accepting what’s out of your control allows you to focus on circumstances that you can affect.
Set goals. What can you accomplish that helps you move in your desired direction? Each day, consider one thing you can work on that will help you attain a goal.
Take decisive actions. Don’t wallow in the stress of a bad situation, do what you can to impact it.
Appreciate growth. Look for the positives that come out of negatives. Better relationships, an increased sense of self-worth or an enhanced appreciation for life may result from struggle.
View yourself in a positive light. Have confidence in your problem solving skills.
Keep things in perspective. Often when we set our troubles aside and look at what others are dealing with, we realize that what we’re facing is not insurmountable.
Remain hopeful. An optimistic attitude counts for a lot. Expect a positive outcome.
Take care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise to prepare yourself to deal with the inevitable unexpected things life will throw your way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Workplace Wellness

From Mental Health America

Do you Love or Hate your Job?

Loving or hating a job can cause more or less stress in life.  Did you know, 70% of those currently employed are searching for other jobs.
Less than one-third of Americans are happy with their work. Half of the workforce is “checked-out.”  Eighteen percent are unhappy with their current position with some even sabotaging the success of their workplace.  An unhappy or unhealthy work environment is bad for a business’ bottom line and bad for employees.
Studies have shown being unhappy with or unfulfilled by work can take a toll on our health, relationships, and even lifespan. Those in unhealthy work environments tend to gain more weight, have more healthcare appointments, and have higher rates of absenteeism. Stress from work can also impact their family life, mental health, and even increase risks for chronic illnesses and heart attacks.
So what separates the few who are excited about their work from the majority of Americans? While there are some differences among age groups and types of employment, a healthy work environment is key to job satisfaction. The happiest employees tend to include interpersonal relationships, commitment to the organization, and a sense of meaning or purpose among the parts of their job with which they are most satisfied. Conversely, those leaving their jobs tend to cite lack of respect, teamwork, and potential for growth among top reasons for quitting.

Top 5 Reasons for Happy Employees
Top 5 Reasons for Leaving Job
  1. Relationship with co-workers
  2. Contribution of work to organization’s business goals
  3. Meaningfulness of the job
  4. Opportunities to use skills/abilities
  5. Relationship with immediate supervisor
  1. Minimal wage growth
  2. Lack of opportunity to advance
  3. Excessive overtime hours
  4. A work environment that does not encourage teamwork
  5. A boss that doesn’t allow you to work flexibly

A healthy workplace is one where individuals feel valued and supported, provides a positive workspace, and shows respect for other aspects of a person’s life. If you’re uncertain as to whether your workplace is on the path to wellness, the signs below may provide some helpful tips:
  1. Productive Atmosphere. Clean, functional and well-lit space. Good working relationship with all staff. Employees feel respected, appreciated, incentivized, and rewarded. Signs of intimidation, bullying, sexual harassment, and fear are absent.
  2. Livable wage. Providing a livable wage encourages a committed and sustained workforce.
  3. Reasonable accommodation. Employers and employees have to work collaboratively to identify reasonable accommodations (not special treatment) in the workplace for physical as well as mental disabilities. From changing physical work space and schedule to the use of interpreters or technologically adapted equipment, it can run the gamut.
  4. Health, Wellness, & Environment. Provide a comprehensive health insurance plan including smoking-cessation, weight-loss, and substance abuse programs.
  5. Open Communication. Keep the communication process transparent. Creating an environment of open communication contributes to a more energetic and productive workforce where all employees can feel invested in the company.
  6. Employee Accountability. It takes two to make a healthy workplace. Employees have to come with a "can-do" attitude and be willing to support each other as well as management.
  7. Management Accountability. Allow employees to provide work-related feedback to their supervisors. It can be anonymous to avoid the possibility of negative repercussions.
  8. Work/Life Balance. We now live in a world where technology is available to keep us connected to work around the clock. Work options such as flexible scheduling, hoteling (reservation-based unassigned seating) or telecommuting ought to be implemented if applicable.
  9. Clear & Positive Values. Be transparent and definitive about what the organization stands for. People in as well as outside of the company should have a good understanding of this.
  10. Fitness. Offer a gym membership, fitness class or even just an exercise space that encourages employees to become physically active and stay fit. If possible, incentivize employees to access such services