Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Black Friday, Cyber Monday… #GivingTuesday!

By Katrina Gay, NAMI Director of Communications

We have a day for giving thanks and two days for sales and buying presents. Now there is a day for giving back.

#GivingTuesday is a social media movement to create a national day of giving to kick off the holiday season. The second annual #GivingTuesday is on Dec. 3, 2013. Making a gift to help others by supporting a charity of your choice, then encouraging others to make a gift, too, are the anchor actions for this day of giving.

#GivingTuesday was started in 2012 by New York’s 92nd Street Y and was then joined by the United Nations Foundation as a partner. With the contributions of a powerful list of corporations and influential leaders, a true social media movement was born that now include thousands of #GivingTuesday initiatives and movements. NAMI is a part of this movement.

It’s Time to Shine the Light on Mental Illness

Mental illness affects everyone—nearly 60 million Americans every year experience mental illness. Left untreated, the costs are enormous to these individuals, their families and our communities.

But we also know that recovery is not a dream. Many people living with mental illness find themselves on the path of recovery made possible by treatment, support and understanding. However, barriers remain. Stigma, prejudice and ignorance present huge obstacles for many. Rather than simply talking about mental illness, we have an opportunity to take action and create a vision of a better tomorrow.

Millions of Americans face the day-to-day reality of living with mental illness. At NAMI, we get it. We’ve been there. We offer understanding and support unique to those who have this shared experience.

We know that the path of recovery is found through individual, family and community education, peer support, common sense public policy and the promotion of public understanding. Together with dedicated grassroots leaders, we educate families and those living with mental illness. We advocate night and day in every corner of the country to ensure better lives for everyone.

And yet fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosed mental health condition receive services and treatment in a given year. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by age 24.

It’s Time to Make a Difference

You can play a part in changing the way the world understands mental illness. Today, and on Tuesday, Dec. 3, you can stand with us and help make a difference.

You can participate in NAMI’s It’s Time Campaign and:

You can become a NAMI #GivingTuesday ambassador, too, simply by using your existing social networks. You can inspire awareness and participation by inviting others to participate, open their minds, share and give.

It is simple and easy to participate through these three steps:

  • Make a gift to NAMI on #GivingTuesday or shout out to others online to support the NAMI #ItsTime campaign.
  • Tweet/Facebook/Instagram post and share your plans to give back. Sample Tweet: Today on #GivingTuesday, proud to support @NAMICommunicate & the 60M living w/ #mentalillness. #ItsTime. http://ow.ly/r9SDk
  • Tweet/Facebook/Instagram post and ask others to give back to NAMI also. Sample Tweet: My #GivingTuesday gift? @NAMICommunicate to help make sure no person/family is alone in the fight. Are you giving? http://ow.ly/r9S3B

So stand with NAMI in starting the holiday season off right. Help others know that there is hope for our communities and for those affected by mental illness.

It’s time to take action.

Monday, November 25, 2013

“I Did It. You can too.”

Tom Stolpa is a 26-year-old man with a wry sense of humor, a steady job and aspirations of achieving a doctorate. He also happens to live with bipolar disorder.

Each week, Tom goes to work at the Coulee Children’s Center in La Crosse, Wis. as a janitor. In his 12 hour a week shift, Tom helps ensure that the children have a clean environment for work and play, something he takes great pride in. Although he’s had the job for a year, it wasn’t an easy process. He admits freely that there were some significant barriers that he had to overcome in order to get work. One of those barriers was himself.

“My biggest downfall was me,” he says. He simply was not able to attain a job on his own.

At this point, Amber Kaio stepped in. Kaio is a supported employment specialist at the La Crosse County Community Support Program (CSP) and provided coaching to Tom on the application and interview process. Tom is now involved with Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Supported Employment, provided by the CSP program. IPS Supported Employment programs are designed to assist individuals living with mental illness find a job to match their individual strengths. Once a job is attained, the program provides continuous support to ensure the individual can overcome obstacles and succeed in the workplace.

After Tom started work, Kaio provided transportation and assistance in mastering his work tasks. She also continually checked in with Tom’s employer to make sure all was well from their point of view. IPS is highly receptive to the needs of their clients, and so allows for an individual’s program to change over time to suit those needs. As such, Tom is now able to work mostly on his own.
As Tom explains, work is valuable.

“Work builds character. Being praised by your boss for good work builds self-esteem and you realize if you can do this, you can do other things too.” Having a job also provides him structure and a place to relax, thus helping his mental health recovery. “When you work, you have less time to think and destabilize yourself with your thoughts” he reports.

Tom is clear that he hopes to advance his career and believes that his supported employment program will help him do it. He highly recommends it to others.

“Use this program; it will get you farther than looking for work on your own,” he says. “Don’t give up hope. The job market is tough but there are jobs out there. Get in somewhere and just get started. I did it. You can too.”

To learn more about employment and mental illness, check out www.nami.org/supportedemployment.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Beat Back the Holiday Blues

By Kathleen Vogtle, NAMI Communications Coordinator

Once again and seemingly out of nowhere, at least for me, the holidays are upon us.

For many, this means Christmas, which falls on a Wednesday this year. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, begins on Nov. 28, coinciding with Thanksgiving for the first time since 1888. According to Jonathan Mizrahi, a Jewish-American quantum physicist, the next time one of the nights of Hanukkah will coincide with Thanksgiving will be 2070, and the first night of Hanukkah will not fall on Thanksgiving for an estimated 77,798 years. Kwanzaa starts Dec. 26, celebrating such themes as faith, purpose and unity.

Lights and decorations, food and family, parties and presents. To paraphrase the classic song from A Charlie Brown Christmas, “The holidays are here. Happiness and cheer.”

Though many would argue that “bah, humbug” is much more reflective of their feelings at this time of year.

"I think a lot of people would say that the holidays are the worst time of the year," said Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in an interview with WebMD. "Many feel miserable, and that's not only for people with clinical depression."

The “holiday blues” can stem from a variety of sources, such as current events, personal grief, loneliness, illnesses of all kinds, economic concerns, separation from family members and relationship issues like separation or divorce.

These feelings can easily be exacerbated by stressors, many of which are experienced in this season alone. Many of us wish—or feel obligated to—host holiday parties, whilst being cajoled into attending those of family, friends and acquaintances. Decorations are beautiful, but someone has to put them up. Not to be forgotten are visits with family members who are only seen once or twice a year and fighting the crowds to find that perfect gift. All of which is compressed into a four to six week block of time.

“There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free,” said Duckworth. “That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated.”

Being surrounded by family and friends, and watching the interaction between others, has a strange way of highlighting what’s changed in a person’s life, or what hasn’t changed. The complex swirl of emotions that is the “holiday blues” is a vicious cycle: I feel down, but it’s the holidays—I should be happy. I’m not, though, and that makes me feel even more miserable.

I’m stressed, which is limiting my enjoyment of the season, and I feel miserable because I don’t want to be stressed.

I wish things were the way they were before.

I wish my life was more like his or hers.

“These feelings don’t mean that the solution is to skip the holidays entirely,” said Duckworth.
Instead, there are strategies one can follow to minimize the negative aspects of the season.

Don’t worry about how things should be. “There’s a lot of cultural pressure during the holidays,” said Duckworth. “We tend to compare ourselves with these idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays.” But remember, those other families doubtlessly have their own stressors and ruminations to contend with.

Be realistic. You can’t please everyone the rest of the year, so why try to during the holidays? Saying ‘no,’ whether to gatherings or a present on someone’s wish list that you simply cannot find, can be one of the most challenging parts of the season. But your own mental and physical well-being needs to come first.

Don’t try to be a superhero (or heroine). We all have complex family dynamics. Acknowledge them, but also acknowledge that, despite the season’s near-universal message of unity and peace, it’s not a realistic outlook. If you must spend time with these people, try to limit your exposure.

Volunteer. Volunteering can be a great source of comfort, simply knowing that you're making a small dent in the lives of people who are not as fortunate. This is a great strategy if you feel lonely or isolated. Consider seeking out other community, religious or other social events.

Keep your own well-being in mind. Yes, the holidays are technically the season of giving. But that doesn’t mean you should take yourself completely out of the equation—instead, add yourself to it. Give yourself some time away from the hype, even if it’s just for half an hour a day. Exercise can also help, with its known anti-anxiety, anti-depression effect. Even a small amount of exercise, such as parking further from the store, can do much to improve your state of mind.

Give it some thought. Do you really have to do everything on your list? “Ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing things that make me miserable?’” Duckworth said. “Think about the reasons.” He suggests that you draw up a list of reasons why you engage in these holiday traditions, and then a list of reasons why you shouldn’t. Just making a simple pro and con list will remind you that you do have a choice.

Make sure that the “holiday blues” haven’t become a scapegoat. You could be experiencing Recurrent Depression with Seasonal Pattern (previously known as Seasonal Affective Disorder) or another biological or psychological cause. If these are persistent feelings, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Overall, Duckworth said, “this is not an easy time of year for a lot of people. Be gentle with yourself.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ending the Silence of Mental Illness in High School

By Colleen Duewel, NAMI Director of Education

I am delighted to announce that NAMI has added NAMI Ending the Silence as a signature education program. NAMI Ending the Silence is an in-school presentation about mental health designed for high school students. Students can learn about mental illness directly from the family members and individuals living with mental illness themselves.

Although only a short, 50 minute presentation, NAMI Ending the Silence is effective at raising awareness, encouraging early identification and intervention and giving a human face to mental illness. By providing a realistic view of recovery and starting a dialog with the students, this program removes the fear and mystery that is often the result of the silence surrounding what can feel like a scary topic. 

The goal of this program is to create a generation of students that are well-positioned to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness through education, support and advocacy. In NAMI Ending the Silence, presenters are trained to “share” as opposed to “teach” the material. The tone set with this attitude is critical. Presenters talk to the students, not at them. They make eye contact with the individual students, chat with them upon entering the classroom and hang around after class is over to visit briefly. As a result, students realize that NAMI Ending the Silence presenters really care about them.

In the presentation, students learn about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, recovery and coping strategies, how to help friends, how to reduce stigma and other important topics that can help spread awareness and knowledge of mental illness.

In the coming months, we will be featuring personal perspectives from some of the presenters for the program on the NAMI Blog. One of those presenters is Danny Gibbs. In a blog for NAMI, Danny writes, "NAMI Ending the Silence succeeds where so many other forms of outreach fail because of the genuine validity of our experience. Unlike many health teachers who work out of a book and have no personal context to draw on, we have lived expertise acquired through years of struggle."

The experiences shared by presenters like Danny can help students learn about their own struggles. “I believe I have had seasonal depression since seventh grade. I have been holding it in for a really long time,” wrote one of the students after attending NAMI Ending the Silence. “After hearing the presentation I went home and told my mom. I told her I need help with this because it is not something I can fix myself; I have tried and tried… Now after the school day I have a meeting with a psychiatrist. I am really scared, but I know I am doing the right thing.”

As a parent, it’s incredibly moving to hear the compassion and understanding that some of the young men and women gain after attending NAMI Ending the Silence. As the program continues to grow I become ever more hopeful that this next generation will remove the stigma and make people feel it is ok to talk.

“It Means They Hate You for Being Different.”

By Danny Gibbs

Every student loves the pencils. At once a blatantly calculating scheme to trigger conversations that would not happen organically and an effective, albeit backhanded, form of bribery. With that said, it does successfully engage them into participation. Eager for the reward they try to define stigma as part of a plant or something wrong with the human eye.

A small girl in the back of the class blurts out, “It means they hate you for being different.”

The eloquence of her estimation and the obvious experience behind it strikes me as if I were not prepared for it. I see myself in her desk long ago, thinking along similar lines but without the courage or opportunity to actually express them publically.

That is the power of NAMI Ending the Silence. We address an unspoken dynamic that exists in every facet of the high school experience. And yet no one acknowledges it. No one validates the feelings and questions relating to it. No one demonstrates the dire consequences of ignoring warning signs. And nobody equips these students with the essential tools in saving and improving the lives of those afflicted with severe mental illness.

NAMI Ending the Silence succeeds where so many other forms of outreach fail because of the genuine validity of our experience. Unlike many health teachers who work out of a book and have no personal context to draw on, we have the lived expertise acquired through years of struggle. We understand the hurt and anguish like no other and have earned the authority to portray hope as more than a concept. To us hope is a way of life that does not diminish our pain or give power to it.

What struck me about this young student’s eloquent and honest summation of stigma was not just its accuracy but also the courage to break through the bondage of discrimination through one singular voice. I could never have done this when I was in school. At that time, being different was my only identity and my existence was defined as an isolated intruder with nothing in common with anybody. So often my mind would cry out with hopeless fervor for somebody to care for me. Somebody who would understand me, teach me and remind me of my forgotten value.

That is what I am doing with every NAMI Ending the Silence presentation. I am screaming out to a stigmatized world that hope and inclusion are not the sole property of those our society defines as mentally healthy. Now I am receiving an answer. Now I am rallying the troops to stand up for issues once labeled as taboo or dangerous. When I relate stories of foiled suicide attempts I am restoring an all too often lost faith in the value of troubled lives. When I sound off about my accomplishments I help end the myth of our defective nature. And when I say there is hope for us to live a life of substance and value, I am drawing a line in the sand saying that no person should be hated because they are different.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Let’s Connect for Mental Health

By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations

This past summer, the White House Conference on Mental Health launched a National Dialogue in which communities large and small have engaged in dialogues about mental illness and needs in the mental health care system.

NAMI members have participated in many forums, including one held on college campuses and at veterans’ facilities.  NAMIonCampus has produced a produced a special toolkit for use with college students  and we have launched a new national education program, NAMI Ending the Silence,  designed to educate and empower high school students.

A New Initiative

This week, NAMI   introduced a new initiative in partnership with the National Council on Behavioral Health (National Council), called Connect4MentalHealth  that seeks to keep moving the National Dialogue forward to action.

Connect4Mental Health is calling on community leaders to make mental health care a priority. Commitment is needed not just from the mental health community, but also law enforcement, emergency services, public housing, school districts and others. Efforts will focus on four specific strategies:

  • Early intervention.
  • Creative use of technology.
  • Integration of services.
  • Improved continuity of care.

These strategies can help break cycles of hospitalization, homelessness or incarceration. They are community-focused and reflect the need for collaboration. They can help save money in the long run.

Support Exists for Greater Priority

For too long, mental health care has been “the poor step child” of American health care, even though the cost to the country’s economy is an estimated $300 billion a year.  Mental health care receives only six to seven percent of all federal health spending; meanwhile, 40 percent of adults living with mental illness do not receive treatment.  From 2009 to 2012, states slashed approximately $4.35 billion from mental health care.

Awareness of the need for change exists. A recent poll of 1000 persons indicated that:

  • 82 percent see people living with mental illness as being treated differently than others people because of social stigma.
  • 74 percent claim to know someone who lives with mental health condition.
  • 41 percent believe access to mental health treatment is poor or awful.
  • 87 percent recognize the need to prioritize funding for early intervention.
  • 68 percent believe mental health care should be addressed at both the national and local levels.
  • 91 percent agree that that community can do more to help people affected by mental illness.

Despite these figures, one of the most disappointing responses of the past year has been that many states have nonetheless rejected expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would have covered people who have no health insurance.  People living with mental illness are among the largest group of potential beneficiaries from states expansions. We still have much work ahead.

Model Programs Play a Role

 There is no “one size that fits all” in mental health care treatment.  Local circumstances will always influence basic strategies. As part of launching Connect4Mental Health, a summit in Washington, D.C. highlighted four examples:

  • Henderson Behavioral Healthcare in Fort Lauderdale, which developed an evidence-based early intervention program that has helped hundreds of adults live an independent lifestyle in supported housing.
  • Vinfen in Boston, which is using technology to encourage more accurate and frequent reporting on medication adherence and other needs, with estimated savings of $3.8 million to the health care system over three years.
  • Center for Health Services  in San Antonio, which has partnered with police, firefighters and emergency response teams to divert more than 1,000 individuals living with mental illness from hospitals or jails each month.
  • MHA Village in Los Angeles, which provides continuity of care that increased employment 200 percent while lowering hospitalizations, homelessness and incarcerations.

Real-life examples help establish that the vision of new, strengthened mental health care system is not an illusion. It is real and achievable. There is already a foundation to build on—if community leaders are willing to seize the opportunity.

Change cannot be achieved without continuing dialogue. It also will depend ultimately on community action. In order to help individuals and families affected by mental illness, NAMI is committed to moving dialogue and action forward for the long haul.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Convention Workshops Wanted: Help NAMI Make a Difference

It’s not too early to start planning for NAMI’s next national convention, which will be held Sept. 3-6, 2014 in Washington, D.C. The theme will be Advocates for Change:  From Dialogue to Action.

One reason for starting early is that the deadline for submitting workshop proposals is Dec. 15, 2013.  Notification of decisions will be made by Feb. 15, 2014.

Workshops are a popular part of every convention, where people find practical information and develop new skills for education, support, advocacy and learning about paths to recovery. They provide lively personal exchanges, involving both national and grassroots experts and innovators.

Workshops are scheduled for 75 minutes, focused on a specific topic. They may involve a single presenter, or more often a panel of two to three persons.

At NAMI’s last national convention in San Antonio, some workshops included:

  • Medications and Adolescents
  • Using Web Technology for Supported Employment
  • Faith Communities: Help or Hindrance
  • Ask a Cop
  • How to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling
  • Addressing Barriers to Recovery for Ethnic Minorities
  • Roadmap for Empowering Families to Collaborate with Professionals

Only one proposal per person can be submitted. If you have questions, please contact convention@nami.org.

Friday, November 8, 2013

New Rule Requires Equal Treatment for Mental Health

By Ron Honberg, NAMI Director of Policy and Legal Affairs

A landmark moment for mental health coverage has taken place. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a long-awaited “final rule” dictating that mental health be covered equal to physical health. The rule finally provides the clarity that is needed to move forward in implementing mental health parity. This is the final aspect of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act that was signed into law in 2008.

One important feature of the rule is that it requires insurers to have financial limits (co-payments, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses) equal to those of physical conditions. The rule also makes it clear that treatment visits for mental health and substance abuse have no greater limitations than for other medical conditions.

Additionally, the rule requires equity in the criteria that insurers use to make decisions about care. For example, insurers cannot use criteria for denying or limiting inpatient psychiatric treatment that are any more stringent than criteria used for other forms of inpatient medical treatment.

The rule requires insurers to be forthright and transparent about the criteria they use to approve or deny care. This is fundamentally important for individuals and families to navigate the complexities of insurance.

Finally, the new rule makes it clear that parity applies not only to medical treatment but also to vital services and supports essential for many in recovery, including rehabilitative services, case management and residential treatment.

"This final rule breaks down barriers that stand in the way of treatment and recovery services for millions of Americans," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Building on these rules, the Affordable Care Act is expanding mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections to 62 million Americans. This historic expansion will help make treatment more affordable and accessible."

However, it is important to note that issues remain that will need to be resolved  and details need clarification.

NAMI is disappointed that the federal government has not yet indicated how parity requirements apply to managed care plans offered through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Administration has promised that they will issue guidance on this important topic in the near future. This is critically important because millions of people living with mental illness are covered through these plans.

Currently, 60 percent of Americans affected by a mental health condition do not receive treatment. With rules requiring parity, we hope that more Americans will receive the care they need and deserve.

NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick reiterated the significance of these rules in a statement earlier today. “The regulations are a crowning achievement. They are the result of a 20-year bipartisan campaign by individuals and families affected by mental illness to end unfair discrimination.”

NAMI will provide further information and guidance about the new rule in the coming days and weeks—but today is a day to celebrate

Remembering Our Veterans and their Families

By Jean Moore, Military and Veterans Policy and Support Manager

President Barack Obama issued an official announcement this week proclaiming Nov. 11, 2013 as Veterans Day.

On Veterans Day, America pauses to honor every service member who has ever worn one of our nation's uniforms.  On this day, America also acknowledges the profound debt of gratitude that it owes its patriots. 

By way of expressing this gratitude, we hope that all men and women who have served our country in uniform are respected and given the care they deserve.  Let’s not overlook our veterans, but instead - always remember our wounded, our missing, our fallen, and their families. When we hand out services and benefits, let us not forget members of the National Guard or the reserves.  When our wounded warriors seek help, let us not ridicule them.  When we make policies or create programs for our veterans, let us include them in initial stages of development.  When we report on our wounded warriors, let us not emphasize the negative or misuse statistics.  And when returning veterans seek employment, let us not discriminate against them.  After all, in the words of the President, “no one who fights for our country should ever have to fight for a job.”

As a veteran and a family member of a loved one impacted by mental illness, my heart goes out to the under-served—including families, women veterans, National Guard and reserve members and military children—who for the most part, suffer in silence.  Let us commit to taking care of the battle wounds of these populations as well.  This is how we show the fullest support of a grateful nation.

A grateful nation also invests in research that helps to improve the quality of life for veterans and service members with psychological wounds.  A recent study found that treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) reduces the nightmares of military veterans affected by posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep apnea. Another recent study found that Vietnam veterans living with PTSD are much more likely to develop heart disease.

Such research findings benefit all of us. We will not have real peace until we appreciate the beauty of diversity in our nation and do right by the relatively few men and women who sacrifice their lives for American freedom.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NAMI Offers Toolkit to Raise Mental Health Awareness on College Campuses

By Emily Cepla, Program Manager, NAMI Child & Adolescent Action Center

NAMI is making it easy to raise mental health awareness on college campuses across the country. Why is this so important?

 Because one in four young adults lives with a mental health condition, yet many college students know very little about what that means. Also, stigma remains the single greatest barrier to college students reaching out for help when they need it.

Late last year, NAMI published College Students Speak, a major survey report in which college students weighed in, calling for more education about mental health issues and access to mental health care on campuses. Guided by the report, NAMI created a special toolkit to raise mental health awareness, educate the college community and help combat stigma.

We’ve made it simple; the toolkit has everything you need. We’re proud to share it with all individuals and groups who share concerns about mental health needs on campuses.

Here is what’s included:  

  • A step-by-step guide with every detail needed for a successful presentation.
  • A visually appealing and dynamic PowerPoint titled Raising Mental Health Awareness.
  • Four fact sheets to complement the presentation and to reinforce the key issues.
  • Eye-catching promotional flyers to hang around campus and in the community to spread the word.
  • A fully customizable template to list mental health resources on campus.
  • Sample social media posts to promote the presentation through social networks.
  • Video clips to spread mental health awareness on campus.

The North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Pan-Hellenic Council came to NAMI earlier this year seeking resources their members could use to raise mental health awareness on college campuses. These organizations represent national fraternities and sororities across the country.  NAMI formed a partnership with them which led to the creation of the toolkit.  Here is what college students have been saying about it:

Great presentation… this is a good way to get the message across and help people get started thinking about these issues.

Awesome job! It is really important to implement this presentation at schools.

The information was presented clearly and was truly eye-opening in how to understand and deal with these situations.

Overall, the content in this presentation, as well as its organization, was excellent

The toolkit has everything you need to raise awareness—now all we need is your help.  Anyone can make a presentation using it:  college students, professors, counselors, coaches, administrators, as well as local NAMI leaders or NAMI on Campus clubs. The more we can educate communities about mental health and how to help a friend or classmate, the more we will see action and positive change.

It’s time. Together we can help to build a brighter future for all individuals affected by mental illness.

You can access the toolkit online or contact namioncampus@nami.org to request a free USB flash drive preloaded with the toolkit while supplies last. Learn more about NAMI’s growing work on college campuses by visiting www.nami.org/namioncampus.