Posts Tagged ‘Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County’

Noozhawk Talks: Annmarie Cameron Aims to Change the Perception of Mental Illness

By providing the tools to understand, Mental Health Association executive director introduces a bigger picture for everyday life

By Leslie Dinaberg, Noozhawk Contributing Writer | @lesliedinaberg | Published on 06.19.2011

It’s a rare and lucky person who finds a career considered to be “equally creative, fulfilling and challenging.” But “lucky” is exactly how Annmarie Cameron describes herself after 20 years as executive director of the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County.

“I love what I do,” said the sparkling-eyed blonde, whose youthful features and can-do attitude belie her two decades at the helm of a nonprofit mental health organization.

“It is so rewarding,” said Cameron. “The only other thing that I am more proud of are my girls (she and her husband, Mike, are the parents of two daughters, Morgan, 15, and Sophie, 12). But for me to have something that I’m this passionate about and this excited, I feel blessed.”

The private Mental Health Association does not offer clinical services.

“We really have three functions,” Cameron explained. “We have the recovery and rehabilitation, the housing and employment.”

The association’s residential services include the newest facility, at the organization’s headquarters at 617 Garden St. Called Building Hope, the project has 51 apartments — 38 of which are occupied by people living with mental health disabilities and 13 others that are designated for low-income downtown workers. The association also operates two smaller residential facilities, as well as a Housing Assistance Loan Program, which provides security-deposit expenses, and a Care Closet that provides clothing and essential personal items for those living with mental illness.

“It’s really the practical things,” said Cameron. “The second thing we do is education, and we have some great community education programs, including one that was just featured in Noozhawk, Mental Health Matters, the sixth-grade curriculum.”

Cameron’s youngest daughter has just finished sixth grade, so she is acutely aware of the opportunities at that age.

“Being an older mom, I can appreciate and step back and watch my kids as well as be with them,” she said. “I am really aware parenting is not supposed to be easy and fun all the time. So I think I’m pretty hard on both of the girls in that I want them to be self-reliant. … I’m trying to not just coddle and cater to them, and it’s not easy.

“I struggle with that at times; I think, am I too pushy? But that’s kind of my nature,” she laughed.

The Mental Health Association also offers family support.

“Because mental illness strikes in late adolescence or early adulthood, parents are often blindsided,” Cameron said. “I can’t tell you how many stories (I have) of moms and dads who talk about their children when they were younger and how bright and how creative and they were overachievers, and all of these really amazing kids.

“What is the most unfair part of this whole topic is this illness strikes right when the person is supposed to be becoming independent, and so family members are caught off guard. They are hoping that it’s drugs or alcohol or something that will go away. They don’t want it to be lifelong.”

When a child is born with a disability, the family learns to cope from the start, she added.

“This one just completely rattles the whole family,” she said. “You’re not ready and you’re confused by it. … Denial is normal. I would have that same reaction.

“If you have an 18- or 20-year-old who is bipolar or has schizophrenia, that person is an adult; they have a lot of rights — every right that you and I have. And that makes loving and caring for someone more complicated when the person is an adult. … Learning what a family member or a sibling or a loved one can do to be helpful and not hurtful is really important. The rest of the system overlooks the fact that the family becomes the de facto case managers, they provide most of the care and they are there in case of an emergency.

“We try to arm people with what they need to know: how to set up boundaries, how to plan for the future when they are gone. A lot of parents really worry about what is going to happen to their loved one when they are gone. So we have services that help with that.”

Cameron believes these education programs are what sets the Mental Health Association apart from some of the other nonprofit organizations that work in mental health.

The housing program is self-sustaining and all other Mental Health Association programs are free, with the exception of a new mental health first-aid program for those who cross paths in public with people with mental health issues.

“This is something I think I’m most excited about because it’s practical training,” Cameron said. “It’s intended for librarians and grocery store clerks and anyone in the community — kind of like CPR — where they want to learn how to help someone who is having a mental health crisis.”

Cameron said mental illness takes numerous forms.

“For every person who’s visibly obvious, there are at least two or three more in our community who are not obvious,” she said. “Many people encounter this issue and they feel helpless. They don’t know what to do; they don’t know what helps and what hurts.

“This mental health first aid gives you some very basic tools and some information for when you encounter someone who is having an anxiety attack or is depressed or whatever. It gives you some tools you can use that will encourage that person to seek help, or be helpful until professional help arrives if it’s an emergency.”

Cameron said the Mental Health Association hopes to become a resource for the community, in a similar way that the American Red Cross is.

“We want to make sure that people feel prepared and feel confident rather than intimidated and feel like they need to avoid this (people who are having mental health issues),” she said. “It all comes down to stigma. It all comes down to people’s first impressions or their first thoughts when they think about this.

“We’re trying to systematically dismantle stigma,” she said with a laugh.

Click here for more information on the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County, or call 805.884.8440. Click here to make an online donation to the Mental Health Association.

— Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieDinaberg.

Program in some local schools tries to educate kids about mental health issue

Friday, May 27, 2011 11:42am

A program being offered in some Santa Barbara County schools is trying to educate sixth graders about mental health issues they may see in life, like eating disorders, depression, and bipolar disorder.  KCLU’s Lance Orozco reports from Santa Barbara’s Washington School.

click here to listen.

Through Innovative Program, Sixth-Graders Learn Why Mental Health Matters

Mental Health Association course gives students an early education about illness, disorders, and the right ways to respond

By Erin Stone, Noozhawk Intern | @NoozhawkNews | Published on 06.05.2011

Trying to quickly chew a mouthful of candy as his peers escaped through the sunlit door for lunch, Washington School sixth-grader Jackson Eddy began to speak about a course called Mental Health Matters.

In the past four years, the curriculum has been taught to more than 200 students in the Santa BarbaraCold SpringGoleta Union and Hope school districts.

“When I used to walk down the street and see somebody who, you know, was talking to himself or doing things like that I would get kind of scared and try to avoid him,” Jackson said. “But now I realize, thanks to Mental Health Matters, that the disease doesn’t really define them, it’s just something that they have.

“It doesn’t really affect their personality. Even if people are talking to themselves or are really depressed, they can still be really nice people.”

The Mental Health Matters program was started by the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County to increase children’s’ understanding of mental health issues.

The program is tailored to each sixth-grade class. Ann Lippincott, associate director of the Teacher Education Program at UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Educationand a Mental Health Association board member, sits down with the teacher to develop a curriculum that fits the needs of that particular class.

“The content itself doesn’t change, but the delivery system and interactive activities are very flexible.” Lippincott told Noozhawk.

Jackie Bluestein, a sixth-grade teacher at Washington School, 290 Lighthouse Road, decided to begin teaching the program this year after learning about it from Lippincott herself during grad school at UCSB.

“I teach a very special group of students and I knew some of them would really benefit from the information in the mental health program, even in just as much as being able to identify their own feelings,” she explained. “They’re all identified as gifted students and some of them do show symptoms of struggling possibly withanxiety disordersADHDADD, and the program covers all of that.

“Typically these are not things we ever really talk about and I thought why don’t we talk about it? Let’s not make it a stigma, let’s be able to identify these feelings and show people that it’s OK to talk about this.”

In Bluestein’s class, the Mental Health Matters program was presented over two weeks, in 75-minute intervals on Mondays and Wednesdays. Other sixth-grade classrooms have had different schedules for the five-day curriculum.

The students learned about many different types of mental illnesses —schizophreniabipolar disorderdepression, anxiety disorders, ADD, ADHD andeating disorders — through interactive activities like skits, poster-making, and “tea parties” with mental health facts instead of tea.

“Now I know how to react when I meet someone with a mental health problem so it (Mental Health Matters) really helped me with life and stuff,” said sixth-grader Max Kyle. “We performed a skit that showed how someone treated a person with a disorder badly and how that person felt so we could understand his feelings, and then we also acted out how a nice person would treat someone with a disorder and then they felt good. It was really fun and helpful.”

This program, unique for its interactivity and the subject matter itself, was born and bred in Santa Barbara County.

“Once upon a time, the Mental Health Association collaborated with a teacher in the Goleta Union School District named Christy Morse,” Lippincott said. “Christy’s very much interested and involved in health education. So, with the district’s sanction and in collaboration with the Mental Health Association, she created a curriculum called at the time SMILE — School Mental Illness Learning Experience. But Goleta also had a dental health program called SMILE. Dental health, mental health — it got confusing.”

The mental health program changed its name, and when Lippincott took over as chairwoman of the Mental Health Association’s education committee about four years ago, she updated and revamped the curriculum and developed additional interactive learning activities for the kids.

But why teach sixth-graders about such dark issues as schizophrenia and depression? Or eating disorders and anxiety?

“Sixth grade is such an important and precious time of life, where the students are on the cusp of entering into this big new world,” Lippincott said. “They’ve typically been in the same elementary school for the last seven years and now they’re going to junior high, and oftentimes those kinds of transitions can render a student vulnerable if they have a predisposition to mental health disorders. We want them to be aware, we want them to be educated, and we don’t want them to be frightened.”

The students certainly felt that the program had affected them in a profound way. They were eager to share all they’d learned. Shouts of “Miss Blue! Miss Blue!” rang throughout the classroom as Bluestein chose students to be interviewed by Noozhawk about their experience.

Zac Pfeifer shared what he’d learned from his final project on ADD and ADHD.

“I learned that they’re more common with boys than girls,” he said. “ADHD makes you kind of hyperactive and you’re not able to focus, and then ADD is like that but without the hyperactivity. Mental Health Matters helped me understand people who have these diseases more.”

The program not only educates the sixth-graders about these various mental health issues and heightens the students’ own personal awareness, but it also strives to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health disorders.

“We really want to help the kids understand that a mental health disorder is nobody’s fault, that there are treatments and it’s really nothing to be afraid of,” Lippincott said. “Just like heart disease or diabetes, it’s nobody’s fault. Hopefully, with a healthy introduction to mental health disorders, the stigma will be dispelled.”

Lippincott also hopes the program will help children recognize when they themselves need help.

“Depression is rampant!” she said. “Most depression goes up to 10 years before it’s diagnosed because there’s the denial, there’s the stigma … developmentally, sixth-graders are ready to know this.”

Lippincott would like to see the program expand. The Mental Health Association has already been asked to develop a curriculum for younger elementary schoolchildren, as well as junior high and high school students.

Although the program has been very successful and is growing, there have been a few stumbling blocks. Some parents have been upset at the fact that ADD and ADHD have been included in the curriculum labeled as “mental health diseases.”

“I feel strongly that ADD and ADHD need to be in the curriculum because to not address them or include them is in fact buying into the stigma,” Lippincott said. “So, what we try to do is tell our stories. My daughter has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. A gal on my volunteer teaching team has a diagnosis herself of bipolar disorder. She talks about the fact that she also had ADD symptoms, which is not unusual with bipolar disorder, and what happened to her in elementary school because her teachers didn’t understand.

“I feel by talking forthrightly about these issues, the stigma will be addressed and, hopefully, the perception of mental health illnesses will begin to change.”

Annmarie Cameron, executive director of the Mental Health Association, says the program is working.

“Most of the statements that kids make about the program indicate that they have not only more understanding but also more empathy,” she said. “I can’t help but think that that will help them in their perception of peers as they grow up.”

The students began to file back from lunch to finish their last official day of elementary school (they graduated June 2).

Mental Health Matters is a program that has allowed kids to understand others and even themselves better. Jackson Eddy’s words were echoed in what every student said: The disease doesn’t define a person, it’s just a part of them and is never a reason to treat them differently.

But perhaps even more valuable is the knowledge these students have acquired about disorders that affect a widespread number of children in the adolescent stage, a time these sixth-graders are approaching. The students all emphasized that they now know they can help themselves if they ever have any of the feelings they’ve learned about —a valuable thing to know already when you’re just in sixth grade.

— Noozhawk intern Erin Stone can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

KEY Assignment: Mental Health Matters

KEY Assignment: Mental Health Matters

Story Created: May 27, 2011 at 1:54 PM PDT

Mental Health Matters.

It’s the name of a program taught at the grade school level and now in four local school districts.

It’s another example of “What’s Right.”

Watch tonight at 5 and 6 p.m. as KEY news reporter Beth Farnsworth takes us to Monte Vista where sixth graders just finished the course.

Local Children Learn “Mental Health Matters”

For Immediate Release PRESS CONTACT: Kelly Kapaun, Christopher Davis

805/687-3322

Local Children Learn “Mental Health Matters”

 

Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County Brings Mental Health Program to Local Classrooms

 

May 12, 2011, Santa Barbara, CA—Although school classrooms cover a wide range of subjects, mental health and mental illness are often absent from the curricula and textbooks. In an effort to increase children’s understanding of mental health, the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County developed and implemented a successful “Mental Health Matters” curriculum in local elementary and middle school classrooms.

“Mental Health Matters” teaches students facts about mental health problems, leading to the understanding that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anorexia, bulimia, attention deficit and anxiety disorders are treatable and can happen to anyone – even children and young people.  The program helps students to:

¨       Fight stigma and ignorance that surround mental health disorders and issues

¨       Learn the warning signs of specific mental health problems

¨       Understand that mental health disorders are treatable

“The ‘Mental Health Matters’ curriculum is designed to introduce sixth grade students to mental health issues, reducing the stigma that is too-often associated with mental health disorders,” said Ann Lippincott, Associate Director of the Teacher Education Program at UCSB and Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County Board Member. “The learning activities in this curriculum are interactive and flexible.”

Jackie Bluestein, fifth and sixth grade Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) teacher at Washington Elementary, recently implemented “Mental Health Matters” in her classroom.

“The curriculum was fantastic as it is activity based and engaging for the students,” Bluestein said. “The students participated in their own learning the whole way through. They took the activities seriously, asked insightful questions, and responded to each other beautifully.”

Initially developed in collaboration with the Goleta Union School District Special Services, the instructional unit is intended for use with sixth grade and middle school students. In just the past four years, more than 200 students in four local school districts (Cold Spring, Hope, Goleta Union and Santa Barbara) have participated in this curriculum. Each of the five, 45-minute lesson units provides hands-on learning activities and video presentations introducing basic facts concerning mental health and mental health disorders.

Dr. Angela Andrade, Assistant Dean of Students and Mental Health Coordinator at UCSB, is among the many parents (and students) providing positive feedback. “It is really the best way to reduce the stigma, change attitudes and ultimately change lives,” Dr. Andrade said. “I know it will make a huge difference for them.”

The Mental Health Association offers participating classrooms the support of a teaching team, trained to lead the “Mental Health Matters” units. The team meets with the teacher to tailor the learning activities to meet the needs of the students and the subject matter of their current curriculum.

In addition to introducing basic mental health knowledge, the program aims to benefit personal awareness. Mental health issues often first appear in the adolescent and young adult years, and this program helps students to be aware of and how to cope with issues they or those close to them may face in the coming years.

“Besides learning about the symptoms, treatments, diagnoses, etc. of mental illness in other people, the students can now be more aware of their own feelings,” Bluestein said. “As they start to grow up and encounter some of the most socially difficult years of their developing lives, the challenges can be too much to bear for some adolescents.  Through this program, the students learn how to deal with these feelings.”

For more information about mental health services available in Santa Barbara County, please call the Mental Health Association at (805) 884-8440 or visit www.mhainsb.org. The Mental Health Association is a private, non-profit organization providing support, housing and advocacy to adults and families affected by severe mental illness.

Local Children Learn “Mental Health Matters”

For Immediate Release PRESS CONTACT: Kelly Kapaun, Christopher Davis

805/687-3322

Local Children Learn “Mental Health Matters”

Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County Brings Mental Health Program to Local Classrooms


April 18, 2011, Santa Barbara, CA—Although school classrooms cover a wide range of subjects, mental health and mental illness are often absent from the curricula and textbooks. In an effort to increase children’s understanding of mental health, the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County developed and implemented a successful “Mental Health Matters” curriculum in local elementary and middle school classrooms.

“Mental Health Matters” teaches students facts about mental health problems, leading to the understanding that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anorexia, bulimia, attention deficit and anxiety disorders are treatable and can happen to anyone – even children and young people.  The program helps students to:

¨       Fight stigma and ignorance that surround mental health disorders and issues

¨       Learn the warning signs of specific mental health problems

¨       Understand that mental health disorders are treatable

“The ‘Mental Health Matters’ curriculum is designed to introduce sixth grade students to mental health issues, reducing the stigma that is too-often associated with mental health disorders,” said Ann Lippincott, Associate Director of the Teacher Education Program at UCSB and Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County Board Member. “The learning activities in this curriculum are interactive and flexible.”

Jackie Bluestein, fifth and sixth grade Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) teacher at Washington Elementary, recently implemented “Mental Health Matters” in her classroom.

“The curriculum was fantastic as it is activity based and engaging for the students,” Bluestein said. “The students participated in their own learning the whole way through. They took the activities seriously, asked insightful questions, and responded to each other beautifully.”

Initially developed in collaboration with the Goleta Union School District Special Services, the instructional unit is intended for use with sixth grade and middle school students. In just the past four years, more than 200 students in four local school districts (Cold Spring, Hope, Goleta Union and Santa Barbara) have participated in this curriculum. Each of the five, 45-minute lesson units provides hands-on learning activities and video presentations introducing basic facts concerning mental health and mental health disorders.

Dr. Angela Andrade, Assistant Dean of Students and Mental Health Coordinator at UCSB, is among the many parents (and students) providing positive feedback. “It is really the best way to reduce the stigma, change attitudes and ultimately change lives,” Dr. Andrade said. “I know it will make a huge difference for them.”

The Mental Health Association offers participating classrooms the support of a teaching team, trained to lead the “Mental Health Matters” units. The team meets with the teacher to tailor the learning activities to meet the needs of the students and the subject matter of their current curriculum.

In addition to introducing basic mental health knowledge, the program aims to benefit personal awareness. Mental health issues often first appear in the adolescent and young adult years, and this program helps students to be aware of and how to cope with issues they or those close to them may face in the coming years.

“Besides learning about the symptoms, treatments, diagnoses, etc. of mental illness in other people, the students can now be more aware of their own feelings,” Bluestein said. “As they start to grow up and encounter some of the most socially difficult years of their developing lives, the challenges can be too much to bear for some adolescents.  Through this program, the students learn how to deal with these feelings.”

For more information about mental health services available in Santa Barbara County, please call the Mental Health Association at (805) 884-8440 or visit www.mhainsb.org. The Mental Health Association is a private, non-profit organization providing support, housing and advocacy to adults and families affected by severe mental illness.

-###-

Classes to be Held to Help Caregivers Understand and Support Individuals with Serious Mental Illness

 

For Immediate Release                     PRESS CONTACT: Kelly Kapaun, Christopher Davis

           805/687-3322

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Partnership with the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County Offers Family-to-Family Education Program

 

January 13, 2011, Santa Barbara, CA— The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in partnership with the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County is offering a series of 12 weekly classes structured to help caregivers understand and support individuals with serious mental illness while maintaining their own well-being. In addition to gaining knowledge about their relative’s mental disorder, class members will be taught coping skills, such as handling crisis and relapse, and will get information about medications, listening and communication techniques, problem-solving, recovery and rehabilitation, and self-care in the midst of worry and stress. The course is taught by a team of trained NAMI family member volunteers who know what it’s like to have a loved one struggling with a serious brain disorder. 

 

Free for close family members, partners and significant others of individuals with:

 

  • Major Depression;
  • Bipolar Disorder (formerly called Manic Depression);
  • Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder;
  • Borderline Personality Disorder;
  • Panic Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; and
  • Co-Occurring Brain Disorders and Addictive Disorders. 

 

Advance registration is required. To find out more about the program and to see if you qualify for these free classes, please call Michaelo Rosso-Bálcazar at (805) 884-8440, ext. 105 or visit www.mhainsb.org

The Family Next Door

 Face to Face with Mental Illness


Saturday, January 29, 2011

By Christopher Davis

In 1972, my mom’s stepcousin “Crazy Mary” drove up from Pasadena to stay with us in Santa Barbara for a week. I was nine. She called me into her room on that first night to casually inform me that people, probably the FBI, were putting something in her hairspray that made her hair fall out. She enthusiastically pulled back areas of red curls to show me the bald spots. Her hair looked fine to me but I didn’t say anything. Mom said she was a schizophrenic and to just ignore some of the funny stuff she said and did. I was horrified.

To this day the oddities of that visit haunt me. When I come across someone whose reality and behavior are out of sync with everyone else around them, it creates an old and familiar anxiety. So it is with some irony that my Santa Barbara-based marketing company not only landed an account with the Mental Health Association (MHA) in Santa Barbara but that I would come face to face with some of my biggest fears there.

About a month ago, I asked if it would be possible to sit in on what I had heard was a particularly interesting and well-attended support group at MHA for family members caring for someone with a severe mental illness.

I was told that family members in this particular support group tend to come more frequently when their loved ones are in crisis and that I should be prepared for what I might hear. I was urged by the staff to remember that mental illness is highly treatable but that the path to getting the proper treatment can take time and can be particularly difficult. My expectation was that I would get some helpful insights into what goes on at the agency so I would be better suited to discuss their impact in the community. I had absolutely no idea of the unsettling and foreign world I was about to enter.

First, my attendance in the group has to be voted on anonymously. Each of the 20 or so members is handed a piece of paper on which they are to write “yes” or “no” with respect to my remaining for the group. One “no” vote means I’m out. The awkwardness of these moments of voting cannot be overstated. I feel (probably imagine) enormous indecision in the room as members tap their pens, look up…over at me…shrug at one another. I, on the other hand, don’t know where to look and, quite frankly, want to flee from the room. When the paper slips are finally collected and the tally comes in unanimously in my favor I am oddly flattered and also slightly panicked. For the next two and a half hours I sit silently trying to compose myself as this group begins to speak a common language of despair, fear, frustration, and dangling hope. I have a front row seat to each of their personal daily struggles as well as their intense shared emotions in dealing with their mentally ill loved one. I’m overwhelmed with the realization that these things are happening right here in Santa Barbara, among us.

Their stories reverberate in my head:

Nineteen-year-old Eric, who suffers from severe depression, is doing better this week and his wrists are healing nicely. He overdosed a month ago and then sliced his arms with broken glass. His father kicked in the bathroom door to find him unconscious and face down in the bathtub. It was his fourth suicide attempt in as many months.

Maddie only communicates with her family by passing notes under her bedroom door. She spends most of the time sleeping. Her father admits, with obvious guilt, that her depressive phase and heavy sedation is a relief from the unpredictability of her mania. She doesn’t eat.

Two young adult siblings are absolutely inconsolable and begging for any kind of help from the group. Their sweet, mild-mannered brother is refusing treatment and has become psychotic and delusional. Over the past few months he seeks any opportunity to kill himself and has made numerous attempts. They’ve removed all pills, knives, and sharp objects from the house. They trade off evenings sleeping in his room; medication bottles line the bookcase that was once home to his football trophies.

Margo, 25 and living with untreated schizophrenia, believes ice cream is evil and it is her mission to rid the world of it. She walks up to people in public and demands that they throw it away. She crosses the street when she has to pass a store that sells ice cream. She is now beginning to think frozen yogurt isn’t so great either.

As he speaks, her father slowly raises his head, looks at all of us and smiles. He becomes transformed as he starts to describe Margo’s paintings—long sunflowers that bend in the summer breeze; vibrant colors used in land and seascapes. His pride is evident as he describes her ability to support herself through her talent. She’s has had five gallery showings in the past two years and is now being represented by a national art dealer.

Don is a middle-aged mortgage loan officer who became severely depressed and suicidal last year after losing his job. He now spends his days drinking, watching TV and internet pornography. He refuses to leave the house or speak to his wife.

My head is spinning with clinical terms—obsessive-compulsive, bipolar, schizophrenic, schizoaffective severe depression, manic depression, Anorexia, borderline personality, Asperger’s, alcoholic, addict, ADD, ADHD, PTSD, combinations of all of the above … and medication after medication; taking the latest this for that, that for this; interactions, reactions—medication that will counter the side-effects of primary medication, a third medication to deal with the effects of the second, and so on. Family members say some remarkably honest and shocking things as they take turns addressing the group:

“I don’t know how to help him.”

“We’ve gone through the entire phone book trying to get help.”

”Let him get arrested then he’ll be safe for a day or two and it’ll give you a nice little break”

“She is more than her illness. She brings joy to my life every day.”

“Never answer the phone after 10 p.m.”

“I’m starting to think it would just be easier on all of us if we just et him do it …”

“Your psychiatrist actually answered the phone?”

“Check all her cell phone calls and texts every night after she’s passed out.”

“Just put the medication in his booze.”

“Meds are making everything worse.”

“This new medication is the answer to our prayers …”

Those who have been in the group longest seem to know the ropes and offer advice and guidance to the newer members. They offer wisdom, practical ideas for getting through the next crisis, and, most importantly, some hope.

I’m stunned at the raw emotion in room. People are sobbing, venting their anger, laughing; they get up and pace. Some don’t say a word. I’m relieved to note that I seem to have become completely invisible to all of them. Michaelo, the moderator and counselor, keeps smiling and nodding with understanding throughout. “You’re doing the right thing.” “Don’t give up but keep your boundaries clear.” “Just take it day by day.” They feed off his every word.

With an equal amount and love and desperation, these family members are all struggling to keep their loved one from acting out in various unpredictable ways, to keep them safe and alive. They also want to ensure them as much happiness, fulfillment, community acceptance as possible. Many group members point out that the mental illness is just one part of the whole person; it is a challenge but it does not define them. Despite all they have been through, they have not given up on a better life for their loved one. It dawns on me that not only do they come here to receive help but they are also here to provide it. As the discussions wind down, they don’t seem to want to leave the room and cling to one another as if the group is somehow a respite and a refuge—away from the doctors, insurance companies, police, social workers, psychiatrists, county bureaucrats, and turmoil at home. They promise one another that they’ll be back the next week, offering final encouraging words as they pull apart and slowly begin to leave the room.

As for me, I now have a new understanding of the complex world of mental illness and the value of shared support and compassion for those dealing with it. I also have new, vivid images to join my memory of “Crazy Mary.” I see the faces of the people in the room, replay each of their stories, and wonder, what was it like for them today?

Author’s note: Names and certain identifying details in this account have been changed to protect the confidentiality and privacy of the MHA family group. For the same reason, events described by members of the group have in a couple of cases been conflated. The meeting is otherwise reported accurately. The group members participated in this editing process.

Christopher Davis is a partner in SurfMedia Communications. He discovered that the issues he was hired by the Mental Health Association to publicize were more affecting and pressing than he had anticipated.

The tough questions

Local mental health advocates hope the tragic events in Arizona will inspire people to learn more about mental illness

BY AMY ASMAN


Choose empathy
The Transitions Mental Health Association and the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County offer a plethora of services and programs for people affected by mental illness and the general public.

PHOTO COURTESY MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID USA

By now, it’s a story we all know, but wished we didn’t: On Jan. 8, 22-year-old Jared Lee Laughner walked into a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store and opened fire on people attending a political meet-and-greet with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner managed to kill six people, and injure several others including Giffords, before some bystanders tackled him to the ground.

The tragedy has shaken the country to its core; inspiring people of all walks of life to gather in mourning, launching a media frenzy, and sparking intense dialogue over what incited Loughner to kill.

The question of motivation has yet to be answered, but there have been plenty from theories, involving everything from Sarah Palin to gun control to mental illness.

Several days after the shootings, the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County released a statement condemning the “tragic and senseless attack,” and calling
on the community to increase efforts to assist people
displaying symptoms of mental illness.

“It will take more time to begin to understand the reasons and motivations behind this national tragedy,” the statement read. “It must first be emphasized that people who live with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population.”

Additionally, the association explained there are many successful treatments for even the most severe mental illnesses. However, social stigma and a chronic lack of funding often prevent people from receiving that treatment.

“The overarching message that is vital is that we have an under-funded, broken mental health system, and it’s not just in Arizona; it’s across the whole country,” said Annmarie Cameron, executive director of  the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County.

The United States, she said, has a “fail first” mental healthcare system.

“People have to show how seriously disabled they are to get help,” Cameron explained. “They have to suffer unnecessarily with their mental illness.”

With the passage of Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, in 2004, it looked like things were going to change, for California at least.

Cameron said the state and its healthcare providers started looking at early prevention as a viable treatment option. However, politics and money soon got in the way.

“They ended up using [Proposition 63] to prop up the old broken system,” she said. “If we didn’t have Prop. 63 our state would be a disaster, but it was never meant to serve as a backfill.”

While she mourns what happened in Arizona, Cameron said she’s hopeful that out of tragedy will come opportunities for greater understanding and community unity.

“A very small percentage of people with mental illness have a propensity toward violence. It’s actually equal to that of the general public,” she said. “But mental illness only makes those violent tendencies worse.

“It’s easy for people to confuse or associate unpredictability with violence,” she continued.

Jill Bolster-White, executive director of Transitions-Mental Health Association, a nonprofit based in San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara counties, agreed, adding that some news coverage of the shootings in Arizona “makes me really nervous because it does desensitize people and can perpetuate fear and the stigma toward mental illness, and can prevent people from reaching out to someone in need.”

“The big point I want people to understand is how treatable mental illnesses are,” she continued. “There are lots of programs available for people with mental illness that have contributed to their recovery.”

She declined to comment on whether the mental healthcare system failed Loughner, but said she feels he is an anomaly compared to the majority of people living with mental illness.

She also agreed with Cameron that there is a severe lack of funding for the system.

“It is extremely difficult to adequately fund a mental health system because it really is a long-term endeavor,” she explained. “If you have a mental illness, you usually have to treat it for the rest of your life.”

When asked about California’s upcoming budgeting process, she said there will probably be some changes made to Medi-Cal coverage and “some other sobering decisions.”

Despite budget cuts, both Transitions and the Mental Health Association are striving to provide their communities with the best services possible.

Some of the programs and services provided by Transitions include: independent living, support services, and housing assistance; family and peer support groups; medical emergency and mental health crisis support; and work assistance programs like Growing Grounds farms and employment networking.

The Mental Health Association offers some similar services, including housing assistance, family and peer support groups, a recovery center, art classes, and a thrift store called the Care Closet.

Along with helping those affected by mental illness, the organizations are striving to extend education services to the entire public.

Last year, Transitions launched a campaign called SLO the Stigma, which aims to debunk the myths surrounding mental illness. And on Jan. 28, it’ll host “Journey of Hope,” an annual mental health awareness forum and resources fair at New Life Church in Pismo Beach.

The Mental Health Association is the first organization in Santa Barbara County to offer Mental Health First Aid, an internationally recognized program that educates people about different mental health disorders, symptoms, and intervention.

“Mental Health First Aid is not intended as a response to people in a violent crisis,” Cameron explained. “It’s designed to give us the tools and skills to help people in need so you don’t have to feel so helpless or overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem.”

The 12-hour class includes lectures and interactive scenarios for various disorders such as depression, anxiety and trauma, psychosis and psychotic disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and self-injury.

The association has scheduled classes in Santa Barbara for the month of January, and is working on scheduling classes in Santa Maria and Lompoc.

For more information about the organizations, their services, or educational opportunities, visit mhainsb.org or t-mha.org.

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at [email protected]

Statement on Tragedy in Arizona by Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County

Statement on Tragedy in Arizona by Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County

For Immediate Release PRESS CONTACT: Kelly Kapaun, Christopher Davis

805/687-3322

The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County joins Americans in mourning the loss of those killed in Saturday’s tragic and senseless attack and expressing our wishes for the full recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and fellow citizens who were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives and everyone who is affected by these horrific events. And we join in applauding the brave actions of individuals who prevented greater harm.

It will take more time to begin to understand the reasons and motivations behind this national tragedy. It must first be emphasized that people who live with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population. There are science-based methods to successfully treat persons with even the most severe mental illnesses. A very small group of individuals with a specific type of mental health symptoms are at greater risk for violence if their symptoms are untreated.

At the same time, we must recognize that the nation’s mental health system is drastically under-funded and fails to provide Americans living with mental health conditions with the effective community-based mental health services they need. Sadly, in the current environment of strained state budgets, mental health services have been cut drastically just as demand for these critical services has risen dramatically.

It is also important that, as a community, we assist persons with signs and symptoms of mental illnesses to seek treatment. The Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara teaches a groundbreaking public education program – Mental Health First Aid – that helps the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. Mental Health First Aid is an interactive 12-hour course funded by the Mental Health Service Act that teaches participants about the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems and provides an overview of common treatment options.

Successful participants of the program are certified as Mental Health First Aiders and learn a 5-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, social and self-help care.

Although rare, when a person becomes so ill that he/she is a danger to themselves or others state laws provide a way to get them help even if they don’t believe that they need it. The best strategy, however, is to have an accessible system of care that is easy to use.

Science has not developed tools to predict reliably individuals at risk for violence. But we can reduce the small risk of violence in those with certain mental health conditions by investing in proven intensive, coordinated community-based mental health services and making certain that they can access these services.

We do not know if the mental health system failed in this situation or if there were missed opportunities or if effective treatment might have averted this tragedy.

We do hope that we can find answers and create solutions that prevent this from ever happening again.

For more information about mental health services available in Santa Barbara County, please call the Mental Health Association at (805) 884-8440 or visit www.mhainsb.org. The Mental Health Association is a private, non-profit organization providing support, housing and advocacy to adults and families affected by severe mental illness.