I often write about the latest research findings in mental health or psychology here, but most of the day-to-day work of helping people with a mental health issue falls onto people in one’s local community. Sure, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals do the bulk of the work — individually or in small groups — but always in private and with little notice or recognition.
Beyond these front-line professionals, there are hundreds of small organizations, loosely-knit groups, and other advocates who expend constant effort to try and help people learn more about mental health concerns and reach others with their message.
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), a group of students is being trained to help recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and other serious mental health concerns. Because who better to help a fellow student in need than another student or one of their friends?
“Mental health is a large concern,” said Sarah Belstock, UWM’s mental health outreach coordinator, who will also train to be one of the “gatekeepers” under the new Campus Connect program. It is part of the university’s continued focus on mental health. […]
She said between 15 and 20 gatekeepers will be trained and will in turn train 300 others, including faculty, staff and students.
The training is made possible by a grant from a local charity, the Charles E. Kubly Foundation, named in honor of a young man who committed suicide at 28. The foundation now helps fund small, local or state-based programs to help educate others about suicide prevention and depression awareness.
These sorts of programs take place throughout the United States, but often are barely noted in their local newspaper.
The group, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Cleveland, recently adapted the session to reach Hispanics — who, along with blacks — often view mental illness as a sign of weakness.
In an exercise on schizophrenia, volunteers stand behind the participants and say aloud admonitions such as: “This person was sent to you by the devil.” “Do not listen to the things this person says.” […]
Starting in 2006, the Cleveland [NAMI] branch’s largely volunteer staff stepped up efforts to crack the puzzle of engaging the black and Hispanic communities.
Both groups have a checkered history with the medical profession. Cultural attitudes, distrust, a language barrier, denial and limited resources contribute.
It is so rewarding to read these stories of outreach and hope. It reminds me that all of us can help in the effort to spread the word about mental health, to be on the lookout for concerning symptoms in our loved ones and friends, and to take action to make a real difference in the world around us.
Outreach and treatment don’t just occur in therapy, though. Sometimes you can find it in unexpected places.
Last, a timely reminder that not all healing occurs just in psychotherapy. Sometimes art helps too, even for something as serious as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a common malady especially amongst soldiers:
Several years ago, the former art school student discovered that painting helps him to unwind. He took it a step further. He painted six abstract pieces that, for him, capture the Vietnam War experience. In a few of them, he incorporated the word “Nam” right into the painting.
Jim and I stood in front of the framed paintings in his tiny work space where he paints in acrylic with a palette knife, usually in brilliant colors.
“What we’re trying to do here is just show the confusion and the chaos and the ugliness of war. The colors kind of speak for themselves. One guy looked at it and asked, ‘Is that blood?’ No, that’s not blood. That’s the noise. That’s your firepower. That’s it,” he said.
The first one he completed, titled “The Year of the Monkey,” is how Jim interprets 1968 in Vietnam and the deadly Tet Offensive by the Viet Cong. That painting recently was awarded second place in a national art competition for veterans.
Jim was momentarily overcome with emotion as he talked about the piece and how more than 20 of his fellow MPs died the first night of Tet, Jan. 31, 1968. He had to walk away from his own painting. He’s learning in therapy how to avoid stressful situations.
You might think that the passage of time would help a soldier purge the stress and painful memories of war. Jim, now 62, found that having an empty nest at home and slowing down in his career caused his disorder to worsen. Too much time to think.
There’s an accompanying photo in that last article that shows two of the paintings that Jim has painted, which is worth checking out. It’s also a reminder that we all heal differently from emotional trauma. Van Gogh and other artists throughout the ages have taught us that many years ago — a lesson we are still learning from today.