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New 9-8-8 Suicide Hotline Could Be 'Hugely Impactful,' Says Maine Mental Health Advocate

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Friday, July 17, 2020

New 9-8-8 Suicide Hotline Could Be 'Hugely Impactful,' Says Maine Mental Health Advocate

By Irwin Gratz

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote Thursday to designate a three-digit phone number, 9-8-8, for use by suicide hotlines around the United States.  Jenna Mehnert is the executive  director of the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness known as "NAMI Maine." Mehnert talked with Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about how the pandemic is affecting  individuals' mental health and how creating a three-digit hotline number can help.

Gratz: So, to begin, this has been a particularly stressful time for everyone. But talk to us about the ways in which what's been happening the last few months might actually raise the risk of people having suicidal thoughts.
 
Mehnert: Anxiety levels have increased among all of us because of the uncertainty of what's going to happen with the pandemic. One of the greatest concerns among all NAMIs in the nation, in mental health providers, is related to our suicide rate potentially increasing as a result of this pandemic. And in our work with local law enforcement, they have shared information with us that they have seen increased suicide patients, as well as attempts, and in some cases those have been connected to the inability to connect to mental health services.

And of course, there have been suicide hotlines for years. But up until now, they've involved seven-digit numbers. Has it been a challenge kind of getting that information into the heads of people who might need it?

Absolutely. Because what we find is that when you need a mental health resource, you are often at a level of acuity where doing research on the internet is more complicated. So we all know to call 9-1-1 if we have a public safety emergency; we know to call 2-1-1 if you're looking for information. So having a three-digit number that we all just know, we don't have to go looking for, will be hugely beneficial. Because unfortunately, you know, suicidality among yourself or someone you love is not something you can kind of plan for. And so having a number that's just three digits that you store in your mind is hugely impactful.

Yeah, especially since this is going to be a national change too - it won't even matter whether you're in Maine or somewhere else.

No matter who's struggling - if your sister is in California, you can say, "Just call these three numbers." Every state system is so dramatically different, and how you access care is so different, that concerned loved ones have a hard time assisting people who are in a different state. But this would change that.
 
Talk to us a little bit about what happens when people do reach a suicide hotline, and how that may help somebody.

Yeah, I think the most important thing that we need to think about is connection. So whether it's finding access to care, or whether it is an acuity of need in terms of imminent risk of someone taking their own life, and they do need to have an evaluation and potentially receive inpatient psychiatric care, it's that connection that doesn't happen when you're sitting alone, overwhelmed by your thoughts, and you don't want to be here anymore. So the idea of a three-digit number that you can call to get that connection, to figure out what is the right next step for you to move through these overwhelming feelings that life is just too complicated and difficult in this moment.
 
Any final thoughts about this change and what it could mean?

Suicide is preventable, and suicide is something that needs all of us to engage. It's not something that our society has openly talked about. Yet we know that if we are all aware of what are the things to look for in the people we love - isolating, they're giving away their possessions, they have really negative views of the future, they stop making plans - that we can collectively help people when they're struggling to see that tomorrow can be a better day, and that we need them to face it with us, and that their lives can be what they envision.

Jenna Mehnert, the executive director of NAMI Maine, thank you for the time. We appreciate it.

Thank you very much.

Once again, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote today to approve a 9-8-8 number for a suicide hotline. It may take some time for that number to actually be put into effect.

Tags:  mental health  suicide prevention 

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Fishermen Wellness: The Benefits of Peer Support

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Thursday, July 16, 2020

Fishermen Wellness: The Benefits of Peer Support

Talk to Someone Who "Gets It"

Nicole E Foster, JD

NAMI Maine

Peer support is the support offered to someone who has been through similar situations and circumstances. It provides a connection with someone who has lived through experiences and come out on the other side, able to share similar struggles.

When you are struggling with mental health or substance use disorder you may feel isolated and unable to connect with others. By forming a connection with another person who has been there, it can be a turning point towards recovery. You have someone you can turn to, connect with, be completely honest with, and not have to worry about being judged. You learn each other’s viewpoints of the world, and why you may have come to the struggle you are currently experiencing. Another benefit of peer support is that it offers a reciprocal relationship, where you are both able to offer support to each other.


Recovery from mental health and substance use challenges is not a straight-line process. Having setbacks and relapses are a normal part of recovery. Peer support is assisting each other to get back on track without judgment. It is about finding resources together that help you with recovery.

Peer support is about helping to remove any obstacles that you may face in your recovery. Perhaps transportation is an issue. You can’t find a ride to a meeting because you don’t have a driver’s license. Peer support workers help with these obstacles; they walk with you. Some days we just need a cheerleader/motivator. It is a hard day, and we don’t think we can make it through without a drink, or whatever unhealthy coping mechanism we are trying to move away from. Peer support workers are there to remind you how far you have come, even if it is just one day. That is one day closer to your recovery.


Peer support workers are a way to connect to others who have had a similar experience, so you do not feel alone in your journey. Peer support makes sure that you always have people to reach out to when you need it. There are times when relapse happens and we need to be able to start where we are at in our healing without judgment, continuing to instill hope.

You are a community of fishermen, you know the struggles that you have faced along the way and that it is not an easy life. If you are interested in learning more about how to support others experiencing a mental health struggle, please consider taking a Mental Health First Aid* class. They are offered throughout the state. You can contact MHFA@namimaine.org for more information. You can reach out to NAMI-Maine’s Helpline at 207-622-5767 ext. 1 and we can help you connect to a Peer Support Worker near you.


*Mental Health First Aid is a skills-based training that teaches participants who are 18 years or older how to identify, understand, and respond to someone who is experiencing a mental health or substance use problem.

The course trains participants to help people who may be experiencing a mental health problem or crisis. You learn:

  • Risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems.

  • Information on depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, and addiction disorders.

  • A 5-step action plan to help someone developing a mental health problem or in crisis.

  • Where to turn for help — professional, peer, and self-help resources.

Mental Health First Aid teaches about recovery and resiliency – the belief that individuals experiencing these challenges can and do get better, and use their strengths to stay well.


A note from MCFA staff: Fishermen Wellness is an on-going series by NAMI Clinical Staff. Each week a new topic will be featured pertaining to mental health and wellness for fishermen. We hope that this information is helpful to fishermen during COVID-19 and also under regular circumstances. Thank you to the clinical staff at NAMI for their support and insight during this time. Together, we persevere.

Tags:  mental health  peer support 

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Advocacy Alert: HEROES Act

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Tuesday, July 14, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact communities across the country, we are increasingly worried about the resulting crisis in our mental health system – one that our country is not prepared to address.

While the House passed the HEROES Act in May, the 4th large COVID-19 relief package, the Senate has yet to pass its own version. A number of provisions in earlier relief packages, like expanded unemployment benefits, are set to expire later this month. This, along with the possibility of programs like the Paycheck Protection Program running out of funds in the near future, may force the Senate to act by late July. As the Senate determines its path forward, NAMI has been working with partners to make sure that any relief package prioritizes mental health.

This means the next few weeks will be crucial for mental health advocates to raise the importance of prioritizing mental health in any package.

In this memo, you’ll find:

  • NAMI’s priorities in the next COVID-19 relief package and status update on federal activities

Please read! A “Take Action” section on how to help mobilize advocates and partners to press Senate leaders to #Act4MentalHealth

Federal Update on NAMI COVID-19 Priorities

Priorities for next Senate COVID-19 relief package

In both the House-passed HEROES Act and in any future Senate legislation, NAMI has joined with the mental health community to advocate for several key priorities, including:

  • Providing flexible funds of $4 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These funds would include $1.5 billion for the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant and an additional $2 billion for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, as well as additional resources for other programs, like an increase to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. These resources would help states provide mental health services amid budget cuts.
  • Increasing the Medicaid federal matching rate (Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, or FMAP) by 7.8 percentage points. Congress has already increased the FMAP by 6.2 percentage points. This additional increase will help states balance their budget without cutting as deeply into Medicaid programs, including mental health and addiction treatment.
  • Providing Medicaid coverage 30 days before release from incarceration for individuals who are eligible for Medicaid through The Medicaid Reentry Act. Currently, the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion doesn’t allow health care providers to bill Medicaid if they treat people in jail, limiting access to care when they reenter the community.
  • Ensuring that CMS has Congressional authority to continue increased telehealth flexibility one year after the COVID emergency ends. Increased use of telehealth has helped many people, including those with mental health conditions, receive needed services during this pandemic, and these flexibilities should remain in place while more permanent changes are evaluated.

Provider relief fund

NAMI has also been a vocal advocate to ensure that mental health providers are guaranteed the emergency relief they need through allocations from the provider fund, established and funded by previous relief bills. So far, the provider fund has largely gone to Medicare providers, which represents only a small share of revenue for mental health providers.

In June, NAMI joined 26 other mental health organizations to send a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging action on this issue. HHS has since committed to making an additional distribution from the provider fund for behavioral health providers. As an organization representing peers and families, we see the impact when people can’t get mental health care because providers are reducing services or shutting their doors, and we will continue to advocate on this issue until it is resolved.

9-8-8 legislation

Finally, establishing 9-8-8 as a nationwide, 3-digit hotline for mental health crises and suicide prevention is getting closer to a reality. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to vote on making 9-8-8 operational within two years at their July 16 meeting. Meanwhile, S. 2661 passed by unanimous consent in the Senate. This legislation is critical to provide a way to fund the infrastructure to make 9-8-8 operational. The House passed a different version of the bill in the HEROES Act in May. In order to ensure its speedy passage, NAMI is pushing for the House to consider the Senate bill under the “suspension calendar,” which is a process to quickly pass bills that are not controversial. Both actions will set 9-8-8 into motion. Please note: 9-8-8 is not currently available. If you or somebody you know is in mental health crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741 or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Take Action: Story Collection

NAMI is collecting recorded or written stories of individuals who have experienced (or witnessed first-hand) the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to influence Senate action. Stories can be submitted at: nami.quorum.us/COVID19Storiesaw/.

In addition to outreach to our mental health advocates, we need your help to reach health care workers and other frontline professionals to share their mental health experience during this crisis.

As respected leaders in your communities, you work directly with the professionals on the frontlines of this emergency. NAMI’s national office is reaching out to our national partners, but your outreach to in-state organizations, such as those representing clinicians (medical associations, nursing or pediatrics groups, social workers, mental health providers, etc.) could help gather impactful stories that we would otherwise miss.

We’re looking for stories that answer any of the following questions and include why it’s important that the U.S. Senate makes mental health a priority in future COVID-19 legislation:

  • How has COVID-19 impacted the mental health of the people you serve/work with?
  • How has it impacted your mental health or those you work with?
  • How has it impacted your ability to provide mental health care?
  • How has COVID-19 impacted your own mental health?
  • Are you experiencing new feelings or worsening of symptoms?

Video stories should be up to 90-seconds long, filmed on a cell phone, and share a personal experience while answering any of these questions. See the attached PDF for more details. Completed videos (or written stories) can be submitted at: nami.quorum.us/COVID19Storiesaw/.

For issues with uploading stories, please email Brandon Graham at bgraham@nami.org.

 

Sample email to partners:

Dear XX,

I’m writing today to ask for your help with an effort that is important to NAMI.

While we know you are working on your own critical priorities, mental health is touching nearly everyone as a result of the pandemic. Nearly half of Americans are reporting that COVID-19 has had an effect on their mental health.

We’re particularly concerned about the mental health impact of the pandemic on health care professionals, including [PROFESSION OF ORGANIZATION YOU ARE CONTACTING]. That’s why we’re working to collect video and written stories from people on the frontlines of this crisis about their first-hand experiences with mental health – either personally, in their family, among colleagues or with the people they serve—and why it’s essential that mental health is included in Congress’ COVID-19 response.

If you can share this request with your members or if you know of any members that would be interested in sharing their story, can you pass this information along? Attached is a one-pager with more information about this story collection effort. Advocates interested in sharing their experiences can visit https://nami.quorum.us/COVID19Storiesaw/ to upload a video or write their story.

Let us know if you have any questions. We appreciate your support in making sure everyone who is struggling with their mental health during this pandemic can get the help they need.


Tags:  advocacy  coronavirus  covid-19  mental health 

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Coronavirus-Related Anxiety: Ways To Cope As More People Experience Anxiety & Depression

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Coronavirus-Related Anxiety: Ways To Cope As More People Experience Anxiety & Depression

 

By Cindy Han

By some estimates, nearly half of all Americans say that COVID-19 pandemic has affected their mental health. The prevalence of anxiety has even given rise to the term “Covid Stress Syndrome.” Among the many reasons people are experiencing anxiety and depression: fears of getting the disease, social isolation, financial stress, uncertainty about the future and more. We’ll discuss the reasons adults and children are suffering from greater anxiety, and ways to cope with increased stress.

Guests:

Jenna Mehnert, executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Maine

Allegra Hirsh-Wright, clinical social worker, Maine Behavioral Healthcare

Listen to the full Maine Calling episode here.

Tags:  anxiety  coronavirus  covid-19  depression  mental health 

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NAMI speaker to relate PTSD recovery story June 17

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Tuesday, June 9, 2020

NAMI speaker to relate PTSD recovery story June 17  

To view this story as it originally appeared in the Piscataquis Observer, click here.

Beth Ranagan, Special to the Piscataquis Observer • June 7, 2020
   
Maya Angelou wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Storytelling has been found to be an important part of the recovery process for those experiencing any mental health challenge or mental illness, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed. Relating the story helps the teller organize painful experiences so as to make sense of life and make recovery and healing real. Life lessons and positive values become reinforced while resilience to face what is ahead is strengthened. Through the recovery and healing process, people seek to become “normal” or return to normalcy, but, instead, find a “new normal” and a new voice.

Of course, it is important to whom you first tell the painful story. Look for a non-judgmental, supportive person who understands the disquieting experiences that happen to members of the human race throughout life. Seek a trusted, compassionate family member or friend, a pastor, a confidential support group, a therapist or someone else with the lived experience.

The story can help others, too. When the story is told to others who may be experiencing a mental health challenge, inspiration to seek help may occur. The message of hope upon hearing about the recovery of another in similar circumstances becomes real. When family members, friends and community members hear the story, there is opportunity for greater understanding, empathy and destigmatization surrounding mental health challenges and disorders.

Stories of loss and hope build connections between individuals and help build communities of those affected by tragic or traumatic crises, disasters, or illness. As human beings, we are connected through emotions such as sadness, happiness, loss, anger, disappointment and more that bind us together.

On Wednesday, June 17 at 1 p.m., the director of peer services at NAMI Maine Nicole Foster, JD, will relate the story surrounding her diagnoses of PTSD, major depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. Her message of hope will include the professional treatments that helped her and the daily coping mechanisms and protocols that she uses for continued healing. Her PTSD lived experience centers on serious accident, domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse scenarios. 

Nicole oversees the Waterville Peer Recovery Center where she is a group facilitator and focuses on suicide prevention in individuals who live with a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. She is particularly suited to this position because of her lived experience. Research has shown that helping others is a way to foster self-healing and self-esteem restoration.

This free program that is open to all community members will be presented via Zoom. If you would like an invitation that provides the link to this presentation, email nami.piscataquis@gmail.com indicating your full name, email address and phone number. For more information, call 207-924-7903.

Tags:  mental health  nami piscataquis  ptsd  speakers bureau 

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Canaan family feels children with special needs deemed ‘nonessential’ during pandemic

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Monday, June 8, 2020

Canaan family feels children with special needs deemed ‘nonessential’ during pandemic

To view this story as it originally appeared with the Morning Sentinel, click here.

The Capraro family has struggled as schools closed, leaving two of their sons with autism struggling without necessary services and have been set back in their progress as a result.

LOCAL & STATE Posted June 6
Canaan family feels children with special needs deemed ‘nonessential’ during pandemic

BY TAYLOR ABBOTT MORNING SENTINEL

Justine Capraro talks to her oldest son, Anthony, on Tuesday as the family plays outside at their Canaan home. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

When the pandemic closed schools back in March, the Capraro family in Canaan were anxious. Their two oldest children, Anthony and Michael, would lose their in-school support services.

The two brothers, 8 and 6, both have autism.

Their parents, Justine and Chris Capraro, say that the two have individualized educational plans through Skowhegan-based Maine School Administrative District 54, which includes specially designed instruction, direct speech therapy, direct occupational therapy and physical therapy.

“Since March 13, Justine and I, like every other family have started ‘crisis schooling’ for our three boys, practicing social distancing and remote learning” Chris Capraro said. They have another son, Carlo, 3, at home. “When schools closed their doors, so did my sons’ therapeutic services.”

Justine Capraro, holds her oldest son, Anthony, with her youngest Carlo, left, as they prepare to go outside Tuesday at their Canaan home. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Now, months later, the family is finally starting to get some answers as the school district is starting to make plans for summer programming at the school. But in the meantime, their children’s progress has regressed significantly. Previously, assistant superintendent Jon Moody said that the district is planning to offer in-person programming for those that need 1-to-1 assistance.

Chris was furloughed from his job at New Balance in April, so he has been able to stay home with his wife to care for their children.

“Michael’s daily speech, physical and OT therapies were quickly halted with no timeframe of when they would be continuing,” Chris Capraro said. “My sons rely on their therapies for their mental and physical development and with a snap of a finger, they were shut down and my wife and I were suddenly handed the job titles of speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, behavioral support professional and teacher.”

Anthony Capraro, right, smiles Tuesday as his family dons their shoes to play outside in the nice weather at home in Canaan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The services for each child differ. Anthony receives between 2 and 2.5 hours weekly in individualized services, and Michael receives closer to 2 each week.

“Our whole lives have been changed and modified,” Chris Capraro said. “Maybe it’s time for the Special Education Services Department to come up with a modified plan for our children who are suffering unnecessarily. It is not right for our children to be left behind as a side note to this pandemic.”

The couple fears that they are not able to do enough for their kids and because of the pandemic, their progress has been set back. The boys, who attend Bloomfield Elementary School, have had major setbacks being out of the classroom. The oldest, Anthony, has been so overwhelmed with the changes, that on two separate occasions, he has broken his bedroom window and a bathroom cabinet.

“It wasn’t so much about their academics being taken away for us,” Justine Capraro said. Before attending Bloomfield, Justine was homeschooling Anthony at home. “The regression have been pretty major. The biggest thing was the social interaction and daily routine, which is what he needs to function.”

“The physical aggression is something we have not seen in a long time,” Chris Capraro said.

He says that Michael has become physically aggressive with their youngest child, which often requires them to separate the two on a daily basis. Additionally, he is no longer potty trained, which is something that his in-school support was able to help him achieve.

Though frustrated, the two realize this is not at the fault of teachers or the superintendent. In recent weeks, the couple has received services outside of the school setting, including from Evaluating Circumstances and Creating Outcomes, or E.C.C.O., in Skowhegan; and through the Family Respite Program through National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine.

E.C.C.O. board-certified Behavior Analyst Elijah Soll says that his organization is a medically-necessary service, but is not education based. When schools closed, E.C.C.O. did not go away, Soll said.

Justine Capraro interacts with her middle child, Michael, who is also autistic, as they play outside Tuesday at their home in Canaan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“There’s only one treatment that is evidence-based for autism, which is applied behavior analysis,” Soll said. “We use principles of applied behavioral analysis, which is mostly based on positive reinforcement.”

This is done by teaching coping skills, developing contingencies and contrived reinforcement so that the children can experience natural reinforcement.

“If a kiddo is screaming and you don’t know why, we analyze the behavior and try to replace the screaming with a request,” Soll said. “We try to figure out exactly what’s going on. Kids with autism don’t have that natural reinforcement, so we create contingencies and set that up for them.”

Anthony Capraro, the oldest son of three, looks for butterflies to catch Tuesday in the backyard at home in Canaan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Though services haven’t halted because of the pandemic, Soll says that it’s been difficult to provide services because some families are not comfortable having behavioral health professionals in their home and some of his staff members are not comfortable going into homes. Additionally, the BHPs are now limited to one family that they can work with, opposed to upwards of five. The Capraro’s started using these services after a brief pause in the previous weeks.

Soll says that they try to use telehealth methods when possible, but it’s not ideal because many children need services in-person.

“It’s a very hands-on service,” Soll said. “(The pandemic) has definitely made things a little difficult.”

Through NAMI Maine, the couple receives care through the Respite Program, which provides families with a provider for in-home care and to give parents a break for those “raising kids with special needs.”

“The Family Respite Program is very unique to the state of Maine,” NAMI Maine CEO Jenna Mehnert said in a phone call. “It’s a program that provides a planned, intentional break for parents raising kids with special needs.”

Mehnert says that about 75% of the kids in the program have a mental health or autism diagnosis. When the pandemic was declared, she says that the organization worked closely with the state to increase the number of hours for families receiving the service from 16 hours a week to 26.

“When COVID came, right away I knew that families would lose all supports,” Mehnert said. “Knowing that this was going to be a struggle for families, we asked the state to increase the number of hours.”

Mehnert says that she has a child at home with autism, which is why she was able to identify the importance of this increase to help families. Additionally, she has worked with other state organizations to shorten the application process for new families and providers to help them get through quicker than normal.

“Most providers stopped any services in the home, so families that face those significant challenges have really been struggling a lot,” Mehnert said. “We are happy that NAMI had the ability to find a way to keep it working so that families get some kind of relief and support, to have someone else there because it is tough.”

The hardest thing for the Capraro family, Chris says, is that for so long, there was no plan and they are just now seeing some possible ideas.

“It feels like my kids … have been considered nonessential,” Chris Capraro said. “Kids on the spectrum and those dealing with mental health diagnosis have taken a back seat. And we know it’s not just us and that there are other families going through the same thing.

“We are not looking for sympathy, we just want people to have some sort of small idea of the reality of what is happening to households that are being forced to keep their special needs children from receiving the free and appropriate education that they are legally required to receive.”

 

Tags:  autism  family respite  youth mental health 

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Piscataquis NAMI recognizes June as PTSD Awareness Month with upcoming speakers

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Monday, June 1, 2020

Piscataquis NAMI recognizes June as PTSD Awareness Month with upcoming speakers 

See this article as it originally appeared in the Piscataquis Observer here.

 

Beth Ranagan, Special to the Piscataquis Observer • May 30, 2020
   
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is most often associated with the combat stress following the active duty of soldiers. Actually, people other than soldiers can experience and be professionally diagnosed with PTSD if they have experienced actual or threatened serious injury, have been threatened with death or have experienced actual sexual violence or have been threatened with sexual violence.  If someone witnesses death or violence, including the domestic violence that children may witness, they can be at risk for later trauma symptoms associated with PTSD. First responders and medical personnel dealing with repeated exposure to death as well as professionals dealing with the details of child abuse are at risk.

The DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5, indicates the kinds and number of symptoms required for a professional diagnosis of PTSD. Symptoms may be delayed in expression or may occur immediately following the event.  Some of the symptoms experienced and witnessed by others are horrific nightmares, flashbacks, involuntary recurrent memories of the event, trauma-related emotions of fear, anger, guilt or shame, irritable or aggressive behavior, physical symptoms such as stomach aches, exaggerated startle response and many others. These symptoms may cause functional impairment at the social or occupational levels and lead to anxiety and depression. Those with PTSD may turn eventually to drugs and/or alcohol to ease the mental pain and quell unwanted memories or behaviors. Soldiers, in particular, may consider suicide. A full diagnosis of PTSD is not made until six months following symptom onset.

During these days of the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation, those with PTSD may be suffering more. The psychotherapy that is a social lifeline for some may have been suspended or may be infrequent when delivered via telehealth. Support groups can no longer meet except digitally. Suicide rates are expected to go up as social supports from family and friends dwindle and jobs are lost. The psychopharmaceutical piece may not be enough without the psychotherapy element. To build resilience, people with PTSD need social supports to heal and maintain equanimity.
 
Every person with PTSD has their own story. On Wednesday, June 17 at 1 p.m., NAMI Piscataquis County will host Nicole Foster, JD, who will relate her experience as a PTSD survivor. Foster is employed by NAMI Maine as the director of peer services and will offer her story as a message of hope to those with PTSD and their families and friends. This program will be held via zoom. For information and an invitation to attend, email nami.piscataquis@gmail.com indicating your name, phone number and email address or call 207-924-7903. A further profile of Foster and her upcoming presentation will appear next week.

NAMI Piscataquis County also supports and sponsors PTSD Conversations: Our Communities’ Response, a series program presented by The Commons at Central Hall. The first presentation via zoom in this series on Wednesday, June 24 at 1 p.m. will feature the VA-approved equine therapy program offered by Judy Cross and Kim Slininger at Spirit Warrior in Dover-Foxcroft. Watch the media and Facebook for more information regarding registration for the program.

Tags:  emerge from stigma  mental health  ptsd  speakers bureau 

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NAMI Maine Launches Teen Peer Support Text Line

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Monday, June 1, 2020

NAMI Maine Launches Teen Peer Support Text Line

See this article as it originally appeared in the Gorham Times here.

Maine’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Maine) announced the launch of a Teen Text Support Line, a new mental health program for Maine youth between the ages of 14-20, which aims to provide mental health support during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.

The Text Line can be reached at (207) 515-8398 (TEXT) and operates from noon-10 p.m. each day. It provides adolescents who may need additional mental health support with a safe space to talk with another young person. Staff providing support via the Teen Text Line are between 19 and 23 years old.

According to the 2019 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book, Maine’s youth have the highest rate of diagnosed anxiety in the nation, and the country’s third highest rate of diagnosed depression among children aged 3 to 17.

The Teen Text Line is not a crisis line. If someone is in crisis, contact the Maine Crisis Line by phone or text at (888) 568-1112.

For more information, visit www.namimaine.org/page/teentextline, or contact NAMI Maine’s CEO Jenna Mehnert at (207) 907-0303 or jenna@namimaine.org.

Tags:  mental health  teen text line  teens  youth mental health 

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Unprecedented mental health crisis looms as Mainers battle COVID-19, economic downturn, experts warn

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Unprecedented mental health crisis looms as Mainers battle COVID-19, economic downturn, experts warn

See this piece as it originally aired with NewsCenter Maine here.

Providers, advocates poised for ‘post-pandemic surge’ of anxiety, depression, suicide
Author: Beth Brogan (NEWS CENTER Maine)
Published: 8:26 PM EDT May 26, 2020
Updated: 2:23 AM EDT May 27, 2020
PORTLAND, Maine —

Buffy Johnson hasn't strayed far from home for more than two months.

She plays with her dog in her yard but doesn’t visit stores unless it’s absolutely necessary.

“If I have to, I instantly start having chest pain and anxiety,” she said. “I’m walking through the grocery store and I have to keep telling myself I’m OK like 500 times,” Johnson said. “Every step I take, in my brain it’s like, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK.’”

“The anxiety of the unknown – ‘Am I going to get this? Am I going to die from this?’ – that’s also been a really scary piece for myself and others,” she said.

Adjusting to an uncertain, ever-changing world is triggering nearly every emotion imaginable: Horror at the national death toll, panic about catching the coronavirus, frustration about getting groceries and other essentials, and grief and sadness for the world that was.

As public health officials wage war against the COVID-19 virus, though, mental health experts are warning of a second, impending health crisis as pent-up Mainers begin to emerge from their homes and the emotional effects of the pandemic – and its isolation, worry, and grief – become visible.

On May 11, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) urged advocates to contact Congress to urge action prior to “a mental health crisis that the U.S. is not prepared for” including anxiety, depression, trauma, and substance abuse are all on the rise, and “huge increases in unemployment increase the risk of suicide.”

A tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation in late March found nearly half of the people polled in the United States said COVID-19 was harming their mental health, the Washington Post reported, and a federal substance abuse and mental health hotline showed an increase of more than 1000 percent in April compared with 2019.

In a state that already sees one person die by suicide every 36 hours, the coronavirus is poised to strike Mainers' mental health with equal vengeance, targeting a variety of high-risk groups with potentially deadly consequences.

“We are very concerned about really the effects of this pandemic to peoples’ psychiatric well-being for decades to come,” Dr. Robyn Ostrander, interim chief of psychiatry at Maine Medical Center, said.

"People don’t have that same structure. There’s not the same certainty," said Jenna Menhert, executive director of NAMI Maine. "Knowing what’s coming is really helpful for people’s mental health. So all of that is a challenge for everybody’s mental health. Social connection, things you’re looking forward to ... all of those things have been completely thrown to the wind."

In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the state, Mainers have been visibly struggling, experts say.

Calls to the Intentional Warm Line have increased an estimated 57 percent since the beginning of the pandemic, and people spend 71 percent more time on the calls, according to Sweetser spokeswoman Susan Pierter.

Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said at a press briefing last week that more people have called the 211 line regarding mental health concerns, and the state had seen a small increase in the number of deaths by suicide and a decrease in in-person mental health visits.

The Augusta Police Department has seen dramatic increases in calls for domestic violence and mental health compared to this time last year.

Calls for domestic violence during March and April were up 19 percent and mental health crisis calls were up 31 percent, Sgt. Jesse Brann said. Calls for overdoses were up 61 percent.

Psychiatric evaluations at the 18 emergency rooms operated by the Northern Light hospital system were "extremely low" through the month of April, but then "increased substantially" in early MayGov. Janet Mills' executive order stretched into another month.

"That was a game-changer for everyone," said Jamilyn Murphy-Hughes, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical director of Acadia Hospital Consult Service, which does assessments at 18 emergency departments.

The Opportunity Alliance, which contracts with the state of Maine to provide mental health and other services, has continued to enroll "dozens" of people each week into substance abuse programs and children's services, according to President and CEO Joe Everett, as well as administer a rental assistance program, help people find food and diapers and potentially find track phones to allow access to telehealth.


"People are so confused and scared and anxious and depressed," Everett said. "And increased suicidal ideation -- not that they have the intent, but they're so overwhelmed because they already have a complicated life ... the people we support live with such struggles anyway ... the playing field is so unfair."

As the threat from the pandemic increased, NAMI Maine and other agencies have raced to increase the resources available to those struggling with mental health. It's not an insignificant number: According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 63.8 million adults in the U.S. had either a substance use disorder or a mental illness in the past year, and about 12 percent, or 7.9 million people, experiencing both. 

Mehnert said NAMI Maine is focusing its efforts on several high-risk groups.

Adolescents and children

Perhaps no one has seen as much disruption in their lives as children and adolescents. With school canceled for months, students are adjusting to completing assignments at home, but many have lost not only the social activity, but the structure, sources of food, physical and mental health care, supports such as speech and behavioral services, and in some cases the only day-to-day check-in with an adult outside their home.

"That adolescent brain we know is not fully mature until 25 and the last part of the brain that develops is the executive function, so the ability to say, 'This will end, this too shall pass' is not actually fully developed," Mehnert said. "So when a 16-year-old feels like it’s the end of the world, they’re not just being a drama king or queen. Their brain doesn’t actually have the capacity to process past that."

Because adults have never experienced anything like this pandemic, many are ill-equipped to offer perspective or comfort.

Ostrander said quarantine can result in multiple mental and physical health issues for children and adolescents.

“Children being put in quarantine has significant mental health effects that linger as well,” Ostrander said. “As you can imagine, children’s lives have been completely upended and it’s harder for them to put in context. Your world is completely shut down. You’re being separated from all of your normal life experiences. You’re not seeing your friends, you’re not in sports, you’re not in clubs … You’re also at the same time potentially in financial distress. Children who are in less-safe homes are stuck there with families who are multiply stressed ... childhood abuse and neglect goes up in times of incredible stress on parents."

“Now that we have people that are so isolated at home, there’s been some preliminary evidence suggesting that we’re having much more difficulty with domestic violence and with child abuse,” said Dr. Ed Pontius of the Maine Medical Center Department of Psychiatry and the Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians.

Greg Marley, clinical director and director of suicide prevention at NAMI Maine, said school staff continues to provide support just as they continue to teach.

"I was talking to a social worker last weekend and she said, 'Our goal in this school is to reach every kid every week,'" Marley said. "It might be through email or text, following up with a Zoom meeting or face to face, we want to reach every kid, every week."

NAMI Maine has established a Teen Text support line in response to the crisis.

Ostrander suggested parents or caregivers create with children a time capsule of the COVID-19 era in a shoebox, to give context to the shut-down and instill the idea that it will end.

"And [someday] we'll say, 'Oh my gosh, remember that summer,'" she said. "It creates this idea that this is a moment in time. It might be a long moment, but it's not forever."

"Not knowing what’s going to come next ... certainly, we don’t either, but we have a better idea," she said. "At least we can manufacture for ourselves some even fake sense of control over our destiny. Children can’t."

ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

Also at risk are Mainers -- including children -- affected by childhood trauma, or "adverse childhood experiences." Maine has a higher-than-average national rate of childhood trauma, which studies show has a direct correlation to adult health.

Isolation, lack of support, and more time alone with their thoughts can trigger flashbacks and nightmares if someone has not processed a past experience, Mehnert said.

“Being alone with your thoughts can be really overpowering, especially if you’ve kind of hidden something away in there and haven’t processed it and worked through it,” Mehnert said. “Because when we have this kind of time, anything that’s hidden away inside is going to come to the surface -- whether we’re talking about kids or adults, but definitely for kids who’ve had traumatic events because we always think, ‘Oh they’re fine’ because they just keep going. But right now, they’re not.”

Substance use and mental illness

People struggling with substance abuse and mental illness are at risk, in part because their hard-won coping strategies may now be insufficient.

Nicole Foster is director of peer services for NAMI Maine and oversees the Waterville Peer Recovery Center for people battling major mental illnesses.

Many peer centers have transitioned from in-person support meetings to Zoom or video meetings, which work for some, she said. But for those whose homes are not safe, or whose trauma took place at home, being “stuck” for an extended period of time is akin to torture. Some members are dropping out as the pandemic continues.

Foster said many counted on the groups for not only therapy but for structure, a hug, and a connection.

“They were finally able to come to a space to be able to open up and connect with other people,” she said. “Then we have something like COVID happen. It’s really challenging for them,” she said.

Foster also struggles with major depressive order, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress syndrome, and has found the recent isolation difficult.

"I can go out. I can go for walks. I can hike, but ultimately if I'm in the house or I'm alone on a hike, the only thing I have with me is my head, which I can't turn off," she said. “That's really a struggle right now ... it's becoming too much sometimes.”

Maine Men at Risk

Men in the United States die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women, which Menhert said can be attributed in part to a culture, particularly among those between the ages of 40 and 60, in the traditional male role of “breadwinner."

"Middle-aged men die by suicide at a much higher rate than any other population," Mehnert said. "I'm talking about our fathers, husbands, brothers ..."

But as the unemployment rate increases, that role is jeopardized, as is a critical element of some mens’ identity.

Most at risk are men who work more physical jobs, such as fishermen, shipbuilders, loggers, construction workers, and farmers, Mehnert said.

NAMI is working with the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association on a mental health wellness blog for fishermen -- a project that was underway even before the losses of the pandemic as fishermen responded to the collapse of the seafood industry.

"It’s really taking a toll on a lot of us," Alex Todd, a commercial fisherman from Chebeague Island and MCFA board member said in a release. "I think even just letting people know that some fishermen are pretty anxious and depressed right now is important.”

Mehnert encouraged men struggling with effects of the pandemic to visit ManTherapy.org, a website developed by a graduate of Bowdoin College.

"We can't say to middle-aged men, 'Go to a therapist,' so we need to find a way to reach them," she said. "They developed a very campy, very funny website" aimed at helping that group.

Frontline workers

Among those at greatest risk, both for contracting COVID-19 and suffering mental health effects, are those on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus: emergency medical personnel, law enforcement, and healthcare workers.

Twenty percent of all cases of COVID-19 are in healthcare workers, according to Pontius.

"People we're working with, they're struggling," Dr. Tom Kivler, senior director of Behavioral Health at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, said. "Providers who are [themselves] high-risk and have their own worries are still doing their jobs."

Dr. Eileen Barrett, an associate professor of medicine and academic hospitalist at the University of New Mexico who worked in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak, told the Journal of the American Medical Association that healthcare workers are dealing with the same uncertainty and anxiety as everyone else, as well as the suffering of their patients and peers, guilt when a patient doesn't do well, and trauma of knowing they risk their own health and that of their family.

To address this, NAMI Maine and various hospitals are conducting "critical incident" debriefings for healthcare workers and other first responders.

Hannah Longley, director of community programs at NAMI Maine, conducts training on "critical stress," which affects the brain and body.

“We're experiencing it as a society,” she said.

"Critical stress," or stress for a prolonged period of time, forces the body into "flight, fight or freeze," she said. "Our bodies will overreact and people will feel a lot of physical symptoms. They may start feeling their chest tightening, their breathing picking up, blood rushing to their extremities, they may lose fine motor skills."

Barrett said frontline workers should do their best to get adequate sleep, eat well, exercise, and to “cultivate a sense of self-compassion so [they] aren’t too critical of [them]selves.”

Maine DHHS and the Maine CDC worked with Pontius and other organizations to create the Maine FrontLine WarmLine, which was launched in late April. More than 100 volunteers now work to cover three shifts every day, ready to provide mental health support for the state's 44,000 frontline workers.

"The calls that we have had have been from frontline people in really great distress," he said. "We're seeing clear signs of stress from their unique contact -- particularly that it continues with no certainty about anything approaching an end."

'Post-pandemic surge'

Kivler said he's bracing for a post-pandemic surge in mental health crises like those experienced throughout history. Right now, people are still just “getting through,” he said, likening the experience to a soldier fighting during a battle.

"If you're quarantining, you don't have to get out of bed, you don't have to be as functional," he said. "A lot of people are home, they don't have great coping skills, they're not keeping on a schedule, they're not getting out of bed, maybe they're drinking more than usual. Then, once they have to go back to work, they're not functioning and it shows."

“Disaster-related stress can become more acute in the five to eight months after a disaster,” Dr. Jessica Pollard, director of the DHHS Office of Behavioral Health, told the Bangor Daily News.

DHHS declined to make Pollard available for comment despite four attempts by NEWS CENTER Maine.

"Broadly, we're concerned because one of the primary risk factors for suicide is social isolation," said Sheila Nelson of the Adolescent Health and Injury and Suicide Prevention Program at the Maine Center for Disease Control. "It's this contradictory thing. There's this public health response that has to happen to keep people healthy for sure, but we don't know what the consequences will be for peoples' well-being. It's still too early to tell."

But it's the skyrocketing unemployment rate that has others concerned.

Since March, Maine's unemployment rates have more than tripled, jumping from 3.2 percent to more than 10.6 percent. 

The estimated number of nonfarm jobs decreased by 98,400 in April -- equivalent to one out of six jobs lost in Maine, according to the Bangor Daily News.

The job loss -- 98,400 nonfarm jobs -- was the largest on record for a one- or two-month period and translates to one out of six jobs lost in Maine.

And while research is unclear as to whether natural disasters trigger an increase in the suicide rate, the impact of a downturn in the economy is much plainer. The New York Times reported that while the rate has increased steadily by 35 percent since 2000, the rate of increase doubled following the 2008 economic decline.

In a letter published this month in The Lancet, Swiss researchers reported that data from 63 countries shows shows "the suicide risk was elevated by 20-30 percent when associated with unemployment during 2000-11 (including the 2008 economic crisis)."

Using that model, along with data from the World Bank, the journal said a decline of 5.3 to 24.7 million jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic would likely increase the number of suicides by between 2,000 and nearly 10,000 per year. 

Ostrander said the "really unprecedented, unbelievable" increase in unemployment is extremely concerning when considering the potential for increased deaths from suicide. 

"For everyone in the family, there's just intense uncertainty about economics ... and that is very concerning to us," she said.

“The impact of social isolation is a here and now challenge,” Menhert said. “The long-term challenge is how do we bring back the economy as a suicide prevention strategy.”

Tags:  anxiety  coronavirus  COVID-19  mental health 

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Local NAMI group goes digital with support and education programs

Posted By Alicia Hynes, Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Local NAMI group goes digital with support and education programs

 

To view this article as it originally appeared with the Piscataquis Observer, click here.

 
After two months of being unable to hold live support group meetings because of the COVID-19 distancing policies, NAMI Piscataquis County will reconvene via Zoom on the first Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. 

In order to attend a meeting, a prospective participant must have an invitation with a link. To receive an invitation to a meeting, request attendance from the group facilitator at nami.piscataquis@gmail.com. Indicate your name, phone number and email address. For further information, call 207-924-7903.

Because NAMI groups are confidential, when an invitation containing a link is issued, it is intended for the recipient only. Respecting the right to privacy is crucial to support group participants. The aim is to create a quality online experience with safety in a nonjudgmental space fostering belonging. NAMI groups, whether live face-to-face or digital, aim to provide a place for people experiencing mental health challenges and their families the opportunity to be heard and have the chance to learn from and support others.

NAMI education programs will be held via Zoom as well. These typically will be scheduled on the second Wednesday of each month but may be changed according to the availability of a speaker.  Any interested community members can be invited to these informative talks about mental health disorders/challenges and their various treatments. These programs will be announced in the press and on the NAMI Piscataquis County portion of the NAMI Maine website namimaine.org.

Using Zoom as a platform for support groups and for education allows those who live in our large county and too far from Dover-Foxcroft to attend meetings and programs in their own homes. NAMI Piscataquis County educational programs and support groups are available statewide and elsewhere wherever internet connection is available. During the time of the pandemic, Zoom is a way to keep social connections and stay informed.

For more information about present and future NAMI Piscataquis County programs, call 207-924-7903.

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  family to family  mental health  support groups 

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