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Working with Youth During a Pandemic

Working with Youth During a Pandemic

Working with Youth During a Pandemic

The YouthMOVE Ohio State Council Continues to Work and Support Youth During Covid-19 Crisis

YouthMOVE (YM) leaders across Ohio have worked to create ways to support each other and their communities during the Shelter in Place order.  YouthMOVE had to cancel all in person meetings and trainings scheduled this spring due to the COVID-19 crisis, however, instead of suspending their work the youth council created a plan to move forward virtually.

YouthMOVE is a program under NAMI Ohio and members include youth and young adults, ages 14-26, who have lived experience in multiple systems including: Behavioral Health, Foster Care, Homelessness, Developmental Disabilities, Juvenile Justice, and Education.  These youth and young adults represent 19 rural and urban counties across Ohio.  Council members provide feedback and guidance to state agencies concerning youth issues and programs across systems and work with NAMI Ohio to advocate for the needs of children and families. In addition, these council members work to create local projects in their own communities to help promote mental wellness.

In the time of COVID-19, YM members recognized how difficult it is to keep safe and healthy during Shelter in Place.  They are concerned about their communities and about their peers.  In order to support each other and continue their work, they have developed a process of checking in with each other and with their peers every week.  This includes increasing our contact through weekly zoom meetings, individual calls, emails, and group messaging.  They did not let COVID prevent them from holding their weekly scheduled state meeting and successfully held an all-day virtual meeting with 21 –participants from 14 counties around Ohio.  The meeting was structured through a series of full council calls and small “break out” group calls to discuss three topics:   how to help youth during Shelter in Place, how to help promote expanding youth peer support via online resources and how to expand our social media and increase communication among our peers.

This resulted in a decision to continue to meet virtually and check in with each other several ways a week. An additional goal was to identify ways to reduce social isolation among YM members and other youth.  It is significant to note that the need for Youth Peer Support was expressed by all participants.  Youth believe this should be the priority among partners and state agencies.  With more youth at home and isolated, they moved their focus to researching online programs that offer peer services.  Council members are exploring existing sites as well as the services provided.  The goal is to provide input to state agencies regarding ways to help reach out to youth who are in need of services.  This focus on peer support is ongoing primary issue for the council.  The council has been working with state agencies to find best practices and evidence based programs that can be implement in Ohio.  The youth council is committed to working harder to advocate for a youth peer support training and certification to provide critical services to youth. Of special concern is those who are more isolated during this pandemic.

Finally, youth council members believe and are grateful that Governor DeWine is making decisions to keep them safe at home. In addition, they feel their partners at the State and NAMI Ohio are genuinely concerned and supportive of creating the best programs and services to youth and their families.  They concluded that, with the continued commitment and support of NAMI Ohio, they will be able to maintain their voice and make Ohio stronger for youth in crisis.

Photo of YouthMOVE Ohio Members on a Zoom Video Call 

Working with Youth During a Pandemic

Ohio Launches Toll-Free ‘COVID Careline’

Ohio Launches Toll-Free ‘COVID Careline’ to Provide Emotional Support for Ohioans Amid Coronavirus Pandemic: 1-800-720-9616

COLUMBUS –The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) today joined with Governor Mike DeWine and RecoveryOhio to launch a new, toll-free Careline to provide emotional support for Ohioans who are experiencing stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ohioans may call 1-800-720-9616 to connect with trained counselors for 24/7 support.
“Coronavirus has undoubtedly affected how Ohioans are living their lives,” said Governor Mike DeWine. “Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotional reactions in adults and children. Reaching out for help to cope with that stress will make you, the people you care about, and Ohio stronger.”
Common signs of stress during an infectious disease outbreak include:  Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones  Changes in sleep or eating patterns  Difficulty sleeping or concentrating  Worsening of chronic health problems  Worsening of mental health conditions  Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs  Difficulty coping with changes in daily routines  Feelings of isolation and loneliness  Financial worries

“It is completely natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during and after a disaster,” said OhioMHAS Director Lori Criss. “Taking care of your emotional health during an emergency will help you think clearly and respond in ways that help you and your family remain healthy now and in the future. Our hope is that the Careline will help thousands of Ohioans connect with resources and services they need to create wellness in these uncertain times.”

The Careline is staffed by credentialed counselors who have been trained to provide free, confidential support for a wide range of needs, including mental health concerns, substance use, problem gambling, and more. Individuals experiencing an acute crisis can still reach out to the Ohio Crisis Text Line (keyword 4HOPE to 741 741) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

“As Ohio moves toward recovery from the pandemic, we encourage our citizens to reach out for help if they need someone to talk to,” said RecoveryOhio Director Alisha Nelson. “We cannot underestimate the importance of our mental health during this crisis and beyond. If you are having a difficult time, please take care of yourself and call the Careline.”

For more information about the Careline, visit:


Working with Youth During a Pandemic

Helping Families and Children Cope with Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Alan Johnson, NAMI Ohio

Her world fell apart the first week Shabbo Ferguson couldn’t go to school.

The 13-year-old girl from Dublin in Franklin County, the adopted daughter of Celeste and Jimmy Ferguson, has post-traumatic stress disorder and developmental trauma and functions more like a young child than a teenager. She desperately needs structured time in school to calm her and give her unstressed time away from family.

But the onset of the COVID-19 virus closed Ohio schools, including Shabbo’s neighborhood school in Dublin, and deprived her of the chance to recharge her batteries, Celeste Ferguson said.

“In the first week, we saw her anxiety,” she said. “Even with medication, she was hearing voices throughout the day and night telling her to hurt herself and members of her family. ‘I should be dead,’ she said.” At one point, she tried to jump out of the car on the highway.

Meanwhile, another COVID-related story was unfolding in Urbana in Champaign County where Kimberly Foster struggled to deal with her step-son, Tyler, who is 10. Tyler has a range of serious behavioral health issues, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and a tendency to rage and become violent, often aimed at his own family.

Like Shabbo, Tyler can’t go to school because of the virus quarantine. The tension in the household, which includes three other children aged nine, four and three months, is sometimes overwhelming because of Tyler’s obsessive behavior issues.

“Each day gets a little bit worse,” Foster said. “All his doctors agreed that the level of treatment he needs is to be institutionalized. Right now, with Tyler, it’s like I’m here with 20 kids. I feel like I’m about to break down.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio (NAMI Ohio) is working with the Ferguson and Foster families and many others to help them “weather the storm” on the home front because of the COVID-19 crisis. NAMI has a statewide network of Parent Peer Supporters working in the Parent Advocacy Connection (PAC) Program. The NAMI peer parent supporters provide no-cost help to parents with high-risk kids to assist them navigate the troubled waters of daily life and to deal with a complicated mental health system.

The peer parents know the system because they’ve been there themselves in dealing with their own children. They’ve walked the path ahead so they know what to expect.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has created a situation like no one has lived through, said Jody Demo-Hodgins, Director of the NAMI Ohio Children’s Division. “Adults are worried and stressed about everything – safety, health, income to name a few.  Adults are able to educate themselves and use coping skills to get through each day. But for kids, it’s more challenging.  Their lives have been upended. There is no school, daycare and friends. The routine they counted on from Monday to Friday is vastly different. Their level of physical activity is infinitely different than it was on March 1.”

Demo-Hodgins said a good first step is to limit, as best you can, talk around children about your worries tied to money and health and to limit their exposure to news.  “Let them know you are trying to keep them safe.  Talk to them about why washing their hands is important and make a game out of it with a song or a timer. Try to keep a routine. This includes a bedtime that is similar to the one when school is in session. Three meals a day with a limit of snacks. Play outside when possible and connect by phone or FaceTime with their friends and family so they can see for themselves that those they care about are ok. It is also important to answer questions in a simple, honest way that provides information and facts but not fear.”

“Remind your child that everyone gets scared and anxious at times,” Demo-Hodgins added. “Let them know you love and care about them. We as adults can take care of our emotional health. That might be one of the best things we can do for any child we love and care about.”

Celeste Ferguson, who teaches immigrant children at a Columbus-area private school, and her husband adopted Shabbo from India two years ago. While they don’t know the youngster’s complete history, they are pretty certain she was traumatized by domestic abuse and abandonment in her childhood. The Fergusons adopted two of Shabbo’s sisters and another child from Ethiopia.

Fearing Shabbo would harm herself or her family, the Fergusons took her to Nationwide Children’s Hospital Behavioral Health Services where she was admitted about four weeks ago. She has since been transferred to a special-needs residential facility In Wooster, OH. Because of Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-home order, the Fergusons can only connect with their daughter by phone or video calls.

Ferguson said working with Courtney Earliwine, a NAMI Ohio peer support parent and regional coordinator, was a lifesaver. “Early on in our journey we partnered with Courtney. She has walked through the whole thing with us. She know the ins and outs of the system. I definitely could not have done it without her.”

Kimberly Foster worked with Nicole Gerty, another NAMI peer parent and regional coordinator. “She helps out as much as she can but just about everything’s on hold right now.” She said the three days Tyler spent away from home in a juvenile detention facility were the most restful she’s had in months.

“Just remember what you’re here for,” Foster said. “You have a purpose. You have to fight through the pain and headache to see there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

To reach the PAC Program, please contact Dana Berryman, State Coordinator at (614) 580-0726 or

Suggestions for homebound parents with high-risk children:

  • Respond to their reactions in a supportive manner.
  • Build in structure whenever possible but be mindful when they show signs of needing a break to be silly or to just rest.
  • Answer their questions in an honest, clear way.  When you don’t know an answer, be honest about that and look the question up if possible. The Ohio Department of Health has done an amazing job of keeping clear, accurate information posted on their web site
  • Find ways to build in opportunities for physical activity a few times a day.  Go for a walk. Create a relay in your yard or house. Play hide and seek. Do jumping jacks or sit ups. Dance. Ask them for ideas.
  • Find ways for them to help. It might be doing simple chores or helping plan and cook meals. Let them know this is a Family Team and they play an important role as one of the members of the team.
  • Model positive behavior. If you need to shed some tears do it out of their sight especially if they are under 10.  If they see you break down, be honest about your stress but let them know you are committed to carrying on.
  • Keep track of their sleep and appetite. Encourage them to be in touch with friends virtually.

NAMI Ohio wants to thank the courageous parents included in this article for allowing us to share their story. The Parent Advocacy Connection Program is available throughout Ohio to help parents get through this pandemic.

NAMI Ohio also pledges to advocate for the supportive services that these children and families desperately need.

Working with Youth During a Pandemic

Working to Protect Ohio’s Residents Living in Group Homes

Written by: Alan Johnson

Mark Zidian is like everyone else struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic: he worries about buying milk, bread, cleaning products, toilet paper and other necessities.

But Zidian’s shopping list is much larger than most: he needs 40 to 50 gallons of milk, 80 loaves of bread and as many as nine cases of 96 rolls of toilet paper a month to take care of the three family homes for mentally ill adults he operates in the Youngstown area.

Zidian’s Windhaven House Inc. has 49 residents, all of whom require three meals a day, seven days a week, plus medical and personal needs. It’s a big job in normal times, but it’s an enormous one as the Coronavirus spreads, making it more difficult if not impossible to get needed food and supplies.

“It’s just desperate,” he said. “It’s the anxiety of not knowing if you’re going to be able to get the quantity you need. The biggest barrier we’re dealing with is getting cleaning products and paper products.”

Zidian is not alone. In all, 4,500 Ohio citizens with mental health issues live in adult care facilities or group homes throughout the state. Many home operators are in desperate need of food and supplies to protect their residents from the threat of COVID-19. Many of the home residents have co-occurring health conditions that put them at a higher risk of contracting the illness and of having the most severe outcomes.

Like Zidian, the operators – most of whom manage small facilities housing from five to 16 severely mentally disabled citizens – are doing their best to obtain the necessary food and supplies.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, the Ohio Adult Care Facilities Association, state agencies and some private donors are helping by providing money and other resources.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services has announced that they will be giving every home operator in Ohio $425 for each home to help get through this crisis. That money will be a tremendous help to those operators who have additional expenses under the Governor’s stay-at-home order.

NAMI Ohio has been able to purchase a limited number of cleaning supplies, gloves, and thermometers. These items are being distributed to homes throughout the state this week. Through a huge donation from Bath & Body Works, NAMI Ohio is currently distributing 30,000 bottles of liquid hand soap to not only adult care facilities but also to children’s residential programs and recovery homes.

NAMI Ohio has also set up an emergency fund that will allow for the opportunity to offer financial assistance to any homes that are under-staffed and in need of emergency assistance to deal with this crisis.

In addition to taking care of the physical needs of their residents, Zidian and other family home operators are concerned about their mental health as Ohioans continue to face a stay-at-home order from Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton.

Many home residents are used to going out to work, shop, see friends or get outside. Much of that has been stopped as state officials try to “flatten the curve” to spread out the more devastating effects of the virus. The shutdown is having an effect on residents, some of whom don’t fully understand what’s going on and why.

“There’s heightened anxiety, heightened paranoia,” Zidian said. “Some are working. They’re scared. They don’t feel stable. They don’t want to believe it. It’s very hard to believe when you say you cannot go out today.”

Operators aren’t immune to the stress.

“I could probably break down and just start crying,” Zidian said.

“But looking after the people is what keeps me going. It’s a labor of love. These people that we care for are the most vulnerable and the most loving people.”

NAMI Ohio is continuing to solicit donations of cash and supplies to distribute to group homes around the state.

The critical need items are hand sanitizer, disinfectant cleaners, cleaning wipes, gloves, non-perishable food items and grocery gift cards. 100% of all donations made during this crisis will be used to purchase cleaning supplies and other much needed items for these adult care homes.


  1. Donate online via PayPal at
  2. Donate with cash or check by mail to 1225 Dublin Road, Suite 125, Columbus, Ohio 43215
  3. Leave donations at the NAMI Ohio office, 1225 Dublin Road, Suite 125, Columbus, Ohio 43215, in the building lobby outside the NAMI Ohio office (Suite 125). Please call first at 614 224-2700 when dropping off donations.

View photos and download the article at

Working with Youth During a Pandemic

Staying Connected During “Stay at Home”

Written by: Alan Johnson

As the COVID-19 virus continues to take a heavy toll statewide, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio and its local affiliates are finding innovative ways to help using video meetings, conference calls and “virtual walks.”

The virus outbreak is not only taking a toll on physical health, but on mental health, too.

NAMI Ohio Executive Director Terry Russell understands how important it is to continue to provide support during this time to those who rely on the NAMI affiliates around the state.

“You’re doing God’s work. Keep it going,” Russell said this week at a conference call with many of the state’s 39 affiliates from cities and counties around Ohio.

Because of orders by Gov. Mike DeWine to close schools, non-essential businesses, limit gatherings of more than 10 people and for most people to work from home, NAMI and its affiliates have been forced to eliminate face-to-face individual and group meetings, fundraising walks, dinners and many other scheduled activities.

But resourceful NAMI affiliates around the state have come up with novel ideas to help people with mental health issues and their families while following Gov. DeWine’s social-distancing directive.

Eric D. McKee, executive director of NAMI of Hancock County, said his agency is using Zoom video conferencing technology to do family-to-family and youth discussions, as well as even a “virtual game night” for people who miss the personal contact of game-playing. The agency also obtained new laptop computers from the local mental health board to accommodate better communications.

McKee, like other NAMI affiliates, said his agency has been forced to postpone its NAMI Walk, an annual fundraiser. Instead, McKee said Hancock County will do a “virtual walk” to replace the normally outdoor event.

Many NAMI affiliates are exploring using the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to get federal money through the Small Business Administration to help pay staff salaries and keep the agency open through the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

In Delaware and Morrow counties, NAMI Director Todd Walts said his agency sent a mental health education “Ending the Silence” video to schools which are closed and doing instruction via video conference. The agency is also offering support groups online via video conferencing, adding Family and Friends seminars, doing peer interviews on Zoom, and uploading awareness videos through YouTube and other social media.

NAMI of Greater Cleveland is also using Zoom for virtual support and peer support group, including one session that had 50 participants, half of whom were new attendees, said Chris Mignogna, executive director. The agency is operating its telephone helpline from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and is utilizing SurveyMonkey to do necessary evaluations online instead of in person. The agency also took mental health help packages to hospitals in advance of the statewide shelter in place order from the governor.

NAMI of Greater Toledo has taken its popular Creative Expressions art program online, providing do-it-yourself art instructions on social media so people at home can still have a creative outlet while the COVID-19 epidemic continues. The agency is also doing virtual peer and family support groups.

The reduction is face-to-face interaction is posing a doubly difficult challenge for NAMI of Wayne and Holmes Counties which services a significant Amish population that doesn’t have access to computers or internet technology. Executive Director Helen Walkerly said phones are being used whenever possible to reach clients.

During these difficult times, NAMI affiliates throughout Ohio are finding new and unique ways to stay connected. The importance of staying in touch with those needing help and being available is the number one priority for the wonderful individuals working and volunteering at these affiliates. Even if virtual meetings are not yet up and running, all NAMI Ohio affiliates are available to provide support over the phone.

To find your local NAMI visit:

You can also stay connected on social media. Most affiliates have an active Facebook page with up to date and inspiring information.