Getting Serious About Mental Health in California

By Rev. Barbara F. Meyers 

California’s new governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to get serious about addressing mental health needs in the state.  You can read his full statement at: https://medium.com/@GavinNewsom/getting-serious-about-mental-health-8c09ad95a5ae

Here are some highlights:

  • We know how to deliver wraparound services on the back end of care that can transform lives. And — more importantly — we know how to deliver intensive services on the front-end, treatment that can stem the course of serious brain illness, including schizophrenia, before it becomes disabling. 
  • My administration will prioritize prevention and early intervention, and pursue a system of care in which the goal is to identify and intervene in brain illness at Stage 1, just as we do for cancer or heart disease.
  • We will scale up alternative sentencing options, including successful models of mental health and drug courts. And we will increase resources for specialized mental health units in our prisons and jails, as well as transitional housing that provides support and treatment upon release.

He has appointed a consumer-friendly adviser to help implement this vision.  It is probably going to be harder than it looks right now, but I applaud the effort and the tenacity it will take to make it happen. 

I especially like the fact that this initiative was one of the ones announced in his first speech on what he will do as governor. 

I view this all as positive and I hope that as it succeeds, it catches on elsewhere. 

New Effort in Suicide Prevention Announced

By Rev. Barbara F. Meyers 

I have learned of a new effort in suicide prevention that needs to become well-known.  It is called Project 2025 and is a nationwide initiative to reduce the annual rate of suicide in the U.S. 20 percent by 2025.  The organization sponsoring it is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

This is the most comprehensive, multi-organizational approach to suicide prevention I have seen.  And, I applaud their efforts.

Here is some of their material explaining Project 2025:

Despite the fact that more is being done today to prevent suicide than at any other time in history, the rate of suicide continues to rise in the United States. Led by the largest suicide prevention organization in the United States, with guidance from the top minds in the field and dynamic data modeling, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has determined the programs, policies and interventions that will prevent as many suicides as possible. Project 2025 is the collaborative effort to implement and scale these strategies nationwide.  

Four critical areas have been identified to save the most lives in the shortest amount of time:

  1. Firearms: More than half of all gun deaths in the United States are by firearm.  By working with key partners, we can educate the range, retail, and broader firearms-owning communities on how to spot suicide risk, and know what steps they can take to save lives.  If half the people who purchase firearms are exposed to suicide prevention education, we can expect an estimated 9,500 lives saved through 2025.
  2. Healthcare Systems: Project 2025 is collaborating with the country’s largest healthcare systems and accrediting organizations to accelerate the acceptance and adoption of risk identification and suicide prevention strategies we know work.  By identifying one out of every five at-risk people in large healthcare systems – such as during primary care and behavioral health visits – and providing them with short-term intervention and better follow-up care, we can expect an estimated 9,200 lives saved through 2025.
  3. Emergency Departments: Basic screening and interventions can provide a safety net for at-risk patients seen in emergency departments.  Project 2025 is educating emergency medicine providers, and collaborating with key accrediting and professional organizations to improve the acceptance and adoption of suicide screening and preventative intervention as the standard in emergency care.  By screening one out of five people seen in ERs, and providing short-term interventions such as Safety Planning and follow-up care, we can expect an estimated 1,100 lives saved through 2025.
  4. Corrections Systems: We need to change the culture of suicide prevention in our country’s jails and prisons.  By screening for and identifying 50% of at-risk individuals at key points within the corrections system, such as at times of entry and exit, and delivering comprehensive care that addresses both physical and mental health, we can expect an estimated 1,100 lives saved through 2025.

 By partnering with organizations in these four areas, we CAN achieve our goal of reducing the annual suicide rate 20 percent by 2025 making it the lowest it’s been in 30 years.

Unitarian Universalist Mental Health Network

By Rev. Barbara F. Meyers

The time has come to start a Unitarian Universalist Mental Health Network.  In the past several months I have been independently contacted by a number of people interested in doing some form of mental health ministry in a UU context.  After having conversations with these interested folks, we have collectively decided that we should band together and start an organization that will promote the inclusion of people affected by mental health issues in the life and work of our congregations, and by extension in society at large.

We have created a mission statement for our endeavor:

The UU Mental Health Network promotes inclusion of people affected by mental health issues in the life and work of our congregations and in the society at large.

We seek to do this by creating a network that is:

  • a supportive community of people affected by mental health issues
  • recognized as an identity group whose opinion is sought out when issues about mental health in congregations come up
  • a repository of information and resources about mental health
  • an advocacy organization when the rights of people with mental health issues are under attack or when discrimination and prejudice is occurring
  • an organization that will advocate to improve access in the United States to adequate, appropriate and compassionate treatment.
  • an advocate for needed resources that are NOT available, and to the appropriate resources intact during budget cuts
  • an advocate which seeks to remove the profit motive from the healthcare industry
  • an advocate for mental health consumers being fully informed and full participants in their own treatment
  • a vehicle for publishing views on mental health issues from different points of view
  • a way to purposefully address unique mental health issues in marginalized populations: ex: people of color, LGBTQIA, prisoners, co-occurring disorders…
  • a source for providing and encouraging education about congregational mental health issues to UU congregations
  • a resource for congregations when a mental health-related issue arises
  • a partner with mental health networks of other faith traditions, to share ideas and work together on our common goals

We are still in formation and have not yet decided on organizational and governance issues.  We welcome participation by others who are interested in helping us create this organization and get it off the ground.  If you are interested, you can send an email to admin at uumentalhealth.org.

Mental Health and Public Accommodation

By Tim Fromla

The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA is a good friend for people who need accommodation in everyday life. A person in a wheelchair would need doors that open easily or a visually impaired person may need a dog to guide them. These accommodations are requirements by the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to make a disabled person part of everyday life. What about the person who is not blind or in a wheelchair but needs accommodations? They too are afforded the same rights. Sometimes, they don’t get it though.

I was at the gym, and I experienced this. Nine months after New Years, I decided to join and gym. I needed to do so to lose weight and for my mental health. The workout and sore muscles are making my mental health issue vanish. Combining my medication, therapy, and sweat is giving me the happiness I haven’t felt in a long time. I enjoy the feeling and would recommend people to try and workout. I guess for me; exercise allays my anxiety. Today though, I felt my anxiety perk up.

After my workout, I needed to use the restroom. The restroom I use is gender neutral, and it’s one person per use. This form of privacy is what I wish. As I approached the front desk, I asked the person if I could use the restroom. The person apologized and said it was for employees and disabled people. I asked what about people who are mentally disabled or have mental health issues? He said no and apologized.

Instead of getting mad, I texted my trainer, and he said that he would speak to his manager. After looking up the definition, the gender-neutral bathroom in a private gym does not have to accommodate the public, unlike like a theater, mall, doctors’ office, but since I am a member, and the restroom is for transgender folks and physically disabled members, mental health folks need accommodation too. So what is my disability? Anxiety. I panic in public restrooms. If there is accommodation, I would use it, unless there isn’t, so I would wait until I got home.

The issue is, many can’t tell I am disabled and I am required by law to say I have mental health issues. Without mentioning this, they need not accommodate me. I spoke to the person, but that person, unbeknownst to him did not realize that mental health issue is part of the ADA.

When I get back to the gym on Monday, I’m going to find out if I could use the private restroom. If I could, then there would be no issue. The manager knows about my mental health. If they refuse my request, I would have no choice but to file a complaint. The purpose is not to sue for money but to educate the corporation about rights as a disabled person.

Mental Health Issues Or An Excuse?

By Tim Fromla

Mental illness is often the reason behind any violent act.  Here are some recent examples:

A Vietnam Veteran who visited Uganda as a missionary was taken into custody by law enforcement for assault after attacking a hotel employee. The man blamed mental illness for his outburst according to the U.K.s Daily Mail. According to the Daily Mail, the man was drunk.

Yes, racism played a role, and if it were me, as an atheist, I would probably have been a victim. If I lied and said I am a Christian, I would probably have been left alone. Mental issues and not alcohol is the excuse the missionary used for his action. Kampala Metropolitan Police reported in a Friday post on Facebook that it has arrested the U.S. citizen, Jimmy L. Taylor, after security cameras showed him punching and cursing at an employee at Grand Imperial Hotel.

Back in Florida, according to the Independent, a U.K. News organization, “The suspected gunman behind America’s latest mass shooting had a history of mental illness and was prescribed anti-psychotic medicine, court records revealed.” Once again, a mentally ill person was responsible for the massacre and not a firearm. The shooter, David Katz legally bought the guns legally according to the ABC affiliate in Chicago.  It was his poor mental health and not the availability of pistols nor the stress of a painful divorce of his parents that was cited by ABC as the cause that led to this tragedy.

But, are all, or even many violent incidents due to mental health problems?  What do mental health experts say?  According to the New York Times,

“Overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1 percent of all gun homicides each year, according to the book “Gun Violence and Mental Illness‘ published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2016.”

Or in 2017, with 345 cases of the mass shooting  (three or more victims) nationwide, about 3 of these cases were committed by mentally ill folks. Now, if anyone went through treatment or if there was a ban on purchasing firearms, then 342 people will still be killed because 99 percent of all shooters are not ill.

As a person with mental health issues, the last thing any of us want is to be a part of any stigma. More than 99 percent of us are not violent nor do we wish to hurt anyone. As a person with a disability, it sickens me when the media, our elected officials or even the public blame the illness on a massacre, but even more disheartening is the stigma that maybe leaving people like us alone is the better path to take than addressing our issues head-on.

My Therapeutic Journey

Hello, my name is Tim, and I have mental health issues. I would never have written something like this because of the stigma associated with mental health. Today, I am writing what I want to say, as verbally speaking my truth and experience is still hard. Many believe that issues with the mind are just that, mental and by picking yourself up from the bootstrap and being responsible would be the panacea needed to quell my anxiety. It isn’t. It’s like me telling someone to buck up and get off your rear end, even though you have stage four cancer and in hospice.

Makes no sense, does it?

The same makes no sense when a person returns from war and is suffering from PTSD, or when a victim of a sex crime survives their ordeal, or even a child separated from their parents because the government says they are illegal to buck up.  An illness is an illness and must have treatment to get better.

So I’ve been going through therapy for more than a year, and it’s a learning process. I am getting treated by a psychiatrist, but I am also going through cognitive behavior therapy too. I am learning to unlearn what was a norm or cultural experience in my life. What I have done to myself was based on years of cultural norms, but my environment, being born and raised in the U.S. can counter each other.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am an atheist, a recovering Christian; jokes aside, my family and culture cling to religion as a norm. And deviation would cause shame in the family but discovering that the faith is racist, I could not be a part of this culture. My church or conference was not racist, my denomination was. Becoming an atheist in the Japanese Christian culture is disgraceful. I could not find peace though, so I sought therapy.

My current therapist told me that after speaking to me, he says that I have an analytical mind. I keep asking why and would not be satisfied with,”Because God said so.” Add racism, and one becomes a nonbeliever. I continued to search and became a U.U. PoC. To me, the Bible, Torah, Quran, and so on to me is merely text. Some call it Holy book, while others call it fiction. Regardless of the documents, it’s something important to someone.

Regardless, asking questions is an integral part of mental health, and my therapy consists of searching. In all honesty, I may not find all the answers, but the searching never ends. When I was  young, I was always a curious person, and as a child, I was fascinated by a spider making a web. Why are a spider’s web sticky, and what is its substance?

Spider Silk
The protein in dragline silk is fibroin (Mr 200,000-300,000) which is a combination of the proteins spidroin 1 and spidroin 2. The exact composition of these proteins depends on factors including species and diet. Fibroin consists of approximately 42% glycine and 25% alanine as the major amino acids.

I was not satisfied with God did it, but the above answer should suffice. It doesn’t. As society compounds us to believe in one thing, that is where the problem lies. My therapist explained that there is nothing wrong with being curious about any subject but to seek answers and sharing it is a lot harder than one thinks. I can’t change my family’s especially the adult’s mind, so I have to explore this journey by myself.

Therefore.

My and many other’s mental health issues are what it is, a health issue and all, in all, ask is to have a little understanding, not sympathy as some of us cannot change a culture that has been in our genetic code for several thousand years. I guess the next step is to express what I am blogging by word of mouth. I can’t right now and…

That’s why I am going to therapy.

Immigration and Mental Health

By Tim Fromla

As more than 2500 children are separated from their parents, and as far as several thousands of miles, the toll brought upon the children can leave a lasting scar. Because of the zero-tolerance policy by the Trump Administration, folks seeking asylum.

The effects upon these children are mind-numbing as you hear a cacophony of fear and anger as the children are screaming for their mothers and fathers, while in custody. Click. Even the APA (American Psychological Association) is imploring the Trump Administration to return the kids to their parents, as long-lasting damage is done to those who cannot comprehend why they were separated.

Even children as young as one year old will experience PTSD. Imagine being a one-year-old in front of a judge during a federal hearing? As an adult, it can be never-wracking. Now imagine being a five-year-old alone in a court with no rights to an attorney?

There is a report of adoption after the parents are deported, according to the Intercept. Many times the family came here seeking asylum from violence, but because, Attorney General Jeff Session said that victims of gang violence or domestic violence are no longer qualifiers for those seeking shelter, the children will no longer see their birth parents and live with some stranger with whom they do not know.

It’s sad to see this happening. Many are saying that these people came here illegally, and the President said that the people are rapists and murderers, but the immigrants seeking refugee did not break the law and are doing everything legally. While those in D.C. are violating the Constitution, it is the children who are suffering.

According to DSM-5 diagnostic code 309.21, the definition of separation anxiety is:

Separation and anxiety disorder is a DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed.) diagnosis assigned to individuals who have an unusually strong fear or anxiety to separating from people they feel a strong attachment to. The diagnosis is given only when the distress associated with the separation is unusual for an individuals developmental level, is prolonged and severe. The need to stay in close proximity to caretakers can make it difficult for children with this disorder to go to school, stay at friends houses or be in a room by themselves. In adults it can make normal developmental activities like moving away from home, getting married or being an independent person very difficult.

Symptoms of Separation and Anxiety Disorder

  • Unusual distress at the discussion or experience of being parted from their attachment figure.

  • Excessive fears that harm will befall their attachment person.

  • Persistent worry of an unexpected event that could lead to separation from the attachment figure.

  • Refusal to leave the attachment figure.

  • Excessive fear of being alone.

  • Nightmares about separation.

  • Anxiety about sleeping and being separated from the attachment figure.

  • Physical complaints when separation is immanent.

There are also accusations of children given antidepressants to calm them down. It took me six months to get my prescription after six months of cognitive behavior therapy, and as an adult, I feel much better because of this. The anxiety these children are facing is separation, but to calm them down, they are forced to take meds without the possibility of therapy? Meds that were not designed or tested to be used for children?  The source of their problem is separation and prescribing powerful antidepressants would not be necessary if they were never separated.

Psychologists and psychiatrists warn that even if the children are back together with their parents, it would take years of therapy to treat these kids and who knows what will happen if they are released.

 

Mental Health First Aid

By Michelle Wagner

Most people are familiar with CPR, the lifesaving technique that is taught throughout the world and learned by medical professionals as well as lay people. Working as a nurse for nearly two decades, I have recertified in CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, time and time again. While I have always been grateful that we pay such close attention to helping in this emergency situation, it was only after my two older sons were diagnosed with bipolar disorder that I recognized how crucial it is to be able to support individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. I have realized how unfair and damaging it is that have we overlooked this equally critical aspect of health.

In this picture, I am standing at a busy intersection in Concord, New Hampshire. It is the same intersection where my oldest son was in 2010 when he was having a manic crisis. Just before ending up in that street, he had emptied my medicine cabinet of over the counter medication and supplements, downing as many of the pills as he could take. He was in crisis, as real and critical as someone having a heart attack. He knew he needed help, but because of symptoms, he was unable to effectively let people know that. Instead, he went to Main Street and started throwing CDs at cars and yelling. Most motorists swerved around him, and some yelled back. He could have been hit. An accident might have occurred. There was only one woman who stopped and offered help. She sat and talked with him until the police arrived. She was exactly what my son needed that day. He was in crisis, and he needed someone who cared and knew what to do. What I learned from that incident is we need more people like that good woman, those who are willing and able to offer help. There is a way to get people trained to provide assistance in just such a situation, and it is available through Mental Health First Aid.

Similar to CPR, Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour training people can attend to learn how to assist those who are experiencing mental health and substance use crises. Through a campaign I posted on our Unitarian Universality crowdfunding website, Faithify, I was able to raise the $3000 I needed to attend a Mental Health First Aid instructor training in Savannah last month. The reason I wanted to become an instructor is so I can teach the 8-hour class in our churches and community groups. Statistics show that ministers are often sought out first when someone is experiencing a mental health issue, yet the training ministers have received is sometimes inadequate. Our churches are the perfect place to start shifting the view of psychological health. By welcoming conversation about mental health and intentionally including the topic throughout our church platforms, we can help make a real difference in dissipating stigma.

It is easy to talk about a person’s physical health. Sympathies run high when someone divulges that they have any one of a myriad of diseases: a heart attack, stroke, insulin dependent diabetes, cancer. These are respectable illnesses, talked about in polite company and even with strangers. There is no stigma attached to these diseases. The same is not true of mental health conditions. I found this out sharply and soundly eight years ago when my oldest son developed symptoms of psychosis. Nobody showed up at my door with a casserole. And there were only a few brave souls who would cross the threshold of the locked unit he was in. Hospitality, like that shown when my father developed cancer, did not abound, and I learned that I would be met with judgment and awkwardness if I brought up the topic with any but a few safe and trusted friends.

This is not ok. Judgment, skepticism, and criticism have no place when a person is experiencing any type of illness, and that includes mental health conditions. We need to bring mental health out of the shadows and into the light, recognizing that illnesses “below the neck” are no different, no less important, than illnesses that affect our brain chemistry. Through supporting Mental Health First Aid either by taking a class or becoming a trainer, we can help increase education and ensure that those who need our care receive it. Nobody should be ignored when they are suffering, and that includes psychologically. When Mental Health First Aid becomes a nationwide standard, just like CPR, we will know we are well on our way to overcoming stigma by finally supporting those who have been marginalized for far too long.

Change: Buddy, You Got a Spare?

By Tim Fromla

Change for people who have mental health issues is tough. When I became an atheist, I had a hard time not believing in Jesus. For more than 20 years,  my belief was Jesus is God, He came to earth, died, and rose on the third day to sit on the right-hand side of God, only to return, rapture people like me, and the battle between God and Satan would take place. I was too scared not to believe, so I grew accustomed to this belief and felt safe.

All this changed after I became an atheist. I became an atheist because of the racism within the Christian faith. The racism where I had to convert all the poor Africans, Asians, Latinos around the world so that they would go to Heaven. The funny thing was, there were no real missions to Europe. The racist statements and actions made by the white folks in my former denomination turned me into a bitter atheist.

With the anger and loneliness brought upon me, my mental world collapsed. The change was hard, and my anxiety turned into depression and other issues. After a few years, I became used to the change and was quite happy. Five years ago, I became a member of a U.U. church and that was not easy either, but eventually, I learned to adapt, and now I am writing this blog, coauthored a book, and seeking treatment.

Then recently, my therapist said that she would have to drop me as a client because of new responsibility, and my former psychiatrist left. People with issues have a hard time with change, but it takes time to adapt. Once the change is accepted, and there is a pattern, things go smoothly or as smooth as possible.

But change takes time.

I’ve noticed of late that people who don’t have these challenges tend to get irritated. Of course, it’s understandable, but sometimes it can be irritating. I have heard people calling folks with these challenges “retards” or “slow,” even psychotic. These adjectives are not only wrong but harmful too. I am not demanding anyone of anything, but to understand how people with mental health issues think and even feel. We don’t want your sympathy or condescending acts, but to treat us like you would treat anyone else.

With the new administration destroying our country, there will be more people seeking help. After watching the news, there were stories of people getting killed by the law enforcement, and this is of concern for many of us. When the answer to a person suffering from a breakdown is a bullet, this makes those who are ill more worried.

We are not defective, but we do need science to keep us balanced. For many of us, prayer does not work. Praying the “demons” away only work on T.V. or the movies, not in real life, and can be insulting that a man with a horn and tail sent his angels to take over our soul. Sure the green pea and head spinning are cool, but when someone has a seizure and babbles what sounds like Latin, isn’t some fallen angel taking over our body, but someone who needs treatment.

Change is tough. Have patience with those who experience change and treat those with the same respect you have for others. Unless we are a threat to others or ourselves, don’t ignore us or don’t be overbearing.

HERO

Post written by Harry

I had some trauma in my childhood which came back to haunt me in my adulthood. I have been having on-and-off depression, especially during the night time when it’s dark and I was so afraid. I have been searching for the hero who can help me to get out of the mental dark hole I have been in. But nobody, not even my parents and wife, can understand the true feelings and grieve I have gone through. I often felt like I am all alone in this world fighting against everything which I lost so many times.

In the Spring of 1993, I was in the last few months of my college years, once again felt completely lost when I couldn’t find a job, couldn’t get the girl I so admired for, and started smoking. One day, I heard this song called “Hero” by Mariah Carey on the radio. At first, I thought it’s about being a hero to his/her lover. I really liked the tune of the song and almost perfect voice and Mariah Carey. So I kept listening. Then as I listened more closely on the lyrics, I realized it’s about the Hero in one’s Soul. Immediately at that moment, “Hero” became my favorite song and Mariah Carey became my favorite idol and stayed as my favorite song and idol until this day and will most likely for the rest of my life.

When I felt down or sad about anything, I often listen to this song “Hero” many hours till I got tired. I cried as I listened to the song every time. Then I started to search for the Hero that’s inside my heart, my Soul. I never got tired of this song. Yes, there is a Hero in my heart, in everyone’s heart. If we care to look deep down inside our heart, our Soul, we can find the love, the hero we have been searching for. Try it, you will be amazed at the magic power of the Hero in your heart. Here, I thought I write the lyrics of the song, hope it can be inspirational to you. Hope everyone can find love and peace from this song, from your heart, from your Soul.

There’s a hero if you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid of what you are
There’s an answer if you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know will melt away

And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside and you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you

It’s a long road when you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand for you to hold
You can find love if you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt will disappear

And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside and you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you

Lord knows, dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone tear them away
Hold on, there will be tomorrow
In time, you’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside and you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you