News & Press
Ionia County CMH battles mental illness stigma with community programs
Fifty years ago, on Oct. 31, President John F. Kennedy signed his last bill: the Community Mental Health Act of 1963.
Also known as the Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, that legislation set the stage for deinstitutionalization of thousands of patients residing in psychiatric hospitals – some of whom were placed there and forgotten by families embarrassed by the stigma of mental illness or who felt there was no where else to turn to seek help for their loved ones.
The Community Mental Health Act was supposed to provide federal funding for community mental health centers to be built across the country to provide those patients with community-based care, but that didn't happen, said Ionia County Community Mental Health Chief Executive Officer Bob Lathers.
"They closed the hospitals, but the dollars didn't always follow," he said.
Three years later, when federal funding still didn't come, the Michigan legislature passed a law requiring local communities to provide care for the formerly hospitalized, and community mental health facilities began to pop up across the state.
Mental illness is not at all uncommon. One in five adults in Michigan will experience a mental health disorder at some point in their life, according to the National Institute of Mental Health; 58 million American adults experience some mental health disorder each year.
Yet, people struggling with any one of a wide range of mental health issues often try to keep it a secret, and may not seek treatment, because of the continuing sense of shame around mental illness.
"Everyone has someone in their family, or knows someone, with mental illness," Lathers said. "We don't talk about it."
While Ionia County Community Mental Health (ICCMH) offers treatment options and resources at its three locations in Ionia, Belding and Portland, part of its mission also is to educate people on what mental illness is – and is not – and how citizens can help.
MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID
ICCMH will launch a new program, called Mental Health First Aid, later this month. The eight-hour course teaches the "psychological Heimlich," said Lathers.
"If you are in a restaurant and someone is choking, there will be someone who knows what to do," he said. "But when someone is acting out, what do we do? This educates the community about what an episode might look like, and what you could – or should – do, if anything, about it."
The Mental Health First Aid course covers how to help an individual who is developing a mental health problem or going through a mental health crisis, and will include:
- Potential risk factors and warning signs for mental health problems, ranging from depression to panic attacks to threats of suicide,
- The prevalence of mental health disorders and why it is important to reduce stigma in communities,
- A five-step action plan including assessment, intervention and how to help the person in crisis connect with appropriate professional care,
- Resources available to help someone with a mental health problem.
Mental Health First Aid can be beneficial for everyone, from those who work with the public, such as in law enforcement, education and business; as well as faith community members, families and community members.
The dates and times for Mental Health First Aid will be announced soon. Contact the ICCMH at 616-527-1790 for more information on training.
GREAT MICHIGAN READ
The book, "Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret" by Steve Luxenberg, the 2013-14 Great Michigan Read selection, will be the topic of a statewide reading discussion to run through May 2014.
ICCMH, one of the sponsoring partners, is inviting schools, libraries, museums, religious organizations and other organizations to get involved by hosting groups that will read and discuss this book, which deals in part with the stigma of mental illness, Lathers said.
"'Annie's Ghosts' is a story about family secrets, personal journeys, genealogy, mental disability and illness, poverty, and immigration said the Michigan Humanities Council in publicity materials. ﾒIt is a story of reframing oneﾕs self-understanding once a family secret is revealed, providing insight into how our identities are shaped by learning something shockingly new about our family history."
Identity and secrecy are two of the overarching themes of the book, author Luxenberg said.
My mom took on a new identity, reinvented herself as the girl who grew up as an only child after her sister Annie went into the institution. Annie lost her identity when she went to Eloise (the institution), essentially becoming anonymous, he said. In trying to reconstruct their stories, and the times in which they lived, I had to reinterpret my own identity and confront how my moms secret-keeping defined me and my understanding of my family.
Reading groups will be provided with readers and facilitators guides.
For more information or to host a reading group, call the ICCMH at 616-527-1790.
KIDS ON THE BLOCK
ICCMH continues to offer the Kids on the Block, a trademarked troupe of puppets that look and act like real kids, each with its own biography, to give elementary school-age children an opportunity to explore social issues like bullying, school safety, drugs, abuse, prejudice and disabilities. High school-age volunteers learn the scripts and put on skits with the puppets.
Anyone interested in volunteering or hosting a performance can contact Diana Osipsov at 616-527-1790 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Karen Bota