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NAMI Athens Recognizes Local Schools

NAMI Athens Recognizes Local Schools

Written by: Alan Johnson, NAMI Ohio 

It turned out 2020 was a banner year for Athens County schools.

While the COVID-19 pandemic seriously affected all students and teachers, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Athens affiliate wanted to recognize the strength and resilience of their area schools by presenting special banners to all schools in Athens County.

Gregory Polzer, a former teacher, adviser to the NAMI Board, and member of the Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, came up with the idea of creating banners to show appreciation for schools helping students, teachers, parents and the community during these difficult times. Polzer said he hoped the signs would “put a smile on all their faces every time they read the banner.”

The NAMI Athens board worked with Performance Signs in Athens to create customized 3 foot by 4 foot banners that included each school’s school colors and mascots. The banners were distributed to every school in Athens County, including the vocational- technical high school and school for handicapped students.

NAMI arranged delivery dates of the colorful banners with superintendents of each school district. At the presentation, Polzer and others spoke of the appreciation for the schools’ effort during trying times and the importance of mental health care


Practicing Mindfulness

Practicing Mindfulness

Submitted by: Danielle Smart

“If you want to fly, give up everything that weighs you down” Buddha

Mindfulness and meditation are terms that are often brought up when discussing self-care, but for many people can seem very intimidating to actually practice. Research has shown that benefits of practicing mindfulness on a regular basis include reducing cell damage, lengthening our lives, bolstering our immune system, improving our concentration, and reducing ruminative thinking that contributes to the high levels of stress which can help people understand, tolerate, and deal with their emotions in healthy ways(1). Practicing mindfulness, even for just five minutes a day, can be a great way to perform self-care. And remember: mindfulness is about practice, not mastery! Below are two simple exercises that you can practice anytime and anywhere to help increase your mindfulness(2):

  1. Our senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, sound) can be a powerful influence on our thoughts and feelings, but rarely do we consciously pay attention to them. In this exercise, simply take note of where you are through acknowledging what your sense are experiencing. Get as comfortable as you can (sitting or standing, whichever you prefer) then name four things you can see, three things you can hear, two things you can feel, and one thing you can smell. You can do this as many times as you would like. The goal of this exercise is to focus on what you are experiencing and being aware of your body, rather than your thoughts.
  2. Think about practicing stillness; this can be as simple as focusing on your breath, a mantra, or an image. You can do this for five minutes, twenty minutes, or however long you choose to be still. Don’t worry if you cannot keep your focus the whole time; whenever your mind wanders off, notice the activity and gently redirect the attention back toward the primary focus. If you need a little more guidance, there are great meditation apps and videos online that can be a great help when learning this practice.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Finding Balance

Finding Balance

For most of us, everyday life finds includes juggling multiple responsibilities, from work to home to our communities, which can make us feel like we are always on the go from one task to another. Nine months into a global pandemic, now more than ever, many people are struggling to find a healthy balance between all the things they have to do and all the things they want to do in their lives while the line between professional and personal is more blurred than ever before. It is currently estimated that approximately 42% of people who are employed in the US are currently working full-time from home(1). And the people who are working from home are often working harder than ever, as these workers now account for more than two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity(1). There is no reason to think that these circumstances are going to change anytime soon, as a number of corporations are developing plans for more work-from-home options beyond the pandemic and working days spent at home is expected to increase fourfold from pre-COVID levels (from 5% to 20% of the workforce)(1). For children and teens, life is equally as stressful, as unprecedented numbers of students have started this school year as online or distance learners. It is currently estimated that 93% of households with school-age children reported their children engaged in some form of “distance learning” this school year(2).

A lack of balance between the different areas of your life has been linked to an increase in fatigue, which actually decreases your ability to work productively and think clearly, as well as poor overall health, including worsening symptoms related to many medical conditions and putting you at risk of substance misuse3. Another consequence of lack of life balance is lost time with friends and loved ones, including missing important family events or milestones, which can leave you feeling left out and might harm your relationships (3). Here are some helpful tips that can encourage you to create boundaries and find more balance between the different areas of your life for yourself and your family (3,4):

• Maintain a daily schedule (including breaks), with set start and finish times for work/school
• Have a designated space in your home for work/schoolwork
• Get dressed as you would if going to your office/classroom (shoes optional)
• Do not overschedule yourself and give yourself adequate time to complete tasks
• Do not respond to work/school emails afterhours; turn off any notifications
• Evaluate your priorities; try to shorten your to-do list and delegate tasks when possible
• Practice self-care: set aside time for relaxation and activities that you enjoy
• Eat nutritious foods and make sure you are getting enough water*
• If you are spending your work/school day online, take a technology time out (even if just for fifteen or thirty minutes) each day
• Develop a sleep routine and maintain with a sleep schedule, even on the weekends; aim for 7-9 hours each night*

*Daily diet, water intake, and hours of sleep needed can and will vary from person to person

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels


We Won’t Let Suicide Win

We Won’t Let Suicide Win

Written by: Alan Johnson

It was after 3 a.m. when Donna Heck got the call she had been dreading for years, but somehow expecting.

Good news rarely comes in the middle of the night.

“This is it,” she said solemnly to her husband, Jeff.

Something bad had happened to Dani Leedy, the caller said. The Hecks soon found out their beautiful, caring 33-year-old daughter had taken her own life. It was Feb. 11, 2019.

For many people, what happened in the wake of such unbearable news would be round after round of sadness and grieving for a lost loved one. And the Hecks grieved, along with their five other children, grandchildren, family and friends.

But they did something else: they acted.

Drawing upon strength, devotion and resiliency unimaginable to most parents in such a devastating time, the Hecks, within four days of Dani’s death, had created a non-profit organization, 33 Forever, complete with a domain name ( and tax identification number, set up to help people like Dani and parents like Jeff and Donna to avoid a similar tragedy in their lives. The organization’s goal is “helping people be their best despite fighting the diseases of depression, anxiety and self-worth, including suicidal thoughts.”

Jeff and Donna, who live in the Mansfield area, are a big part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio. Donna is a member of the NAMI Ohio Board of Directors and Jeff is newly elected to the board of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, which operates under the auspices of NAMI Ohio. Both, as well as 33 Forever,are active supporters and financial sponsors of NAMI Richland County as well.

Jeff and Donna are anxious to share their daughter’s story as part of their goal to recast their grief into helping others, something the couple feel Dani, who was a caregiver for others all of her too-short 33 years of life, would appreciate.

Donna vividly remembers telling Sara, another one of her daughters, the news about Dani.

“What do we tell people?” Sara asked. “We have to protect you.”

Donna took her daughter’s hands. “We tell them the truth. If we don’t, we will let suicide win and we can’t do that. We are stronger than that.”

Dani’s Story

Dani was born May 1, 1985, and even as a child would command attention and light up a room, Donna said. Jeff came into her life later when Donna was divorced and they married. Dani was particularly close to Sara Heck, one of Jeff’s daughters who was about a year younger, but the blended family of six children, five girls and a boy, all got along well.

Dani was caring and empathic, even as a child, her mother said. “She wanted to ‘fix’ people. She was always looking for misfits. She spent her life trying to help people.”

While things looked fine on the surface, when Dani was 13, about the time her parents got divorced, she began showing flashes of anger, Donna said. She also began obsessing about her body image, something that would stick with her the rest of her life. About two years later, they got the first of what would be three devastating phone calls: Dani, then 15, had taken an overdose of pills and been rushed to the emergency room.

Like most parents confronted with such a crisis for the first time, Jeff and Donna didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. They credit folks at NAMI Richland County with helping them find resources for their daughter, who they realized at that point was struggling with depression.

After a brief stay in Akron Children’s Hospital, Dani came home to recuperate and eventually returned to high school. Jeff said she “tested the edges” for the next few years, but with counseling and medication, Dani seemed to be getting her life together as she prepared to head to college at Kent State University, where she planned to major in criminal justice.

There was another suicide attempt when she was a junior at Kent State, although her parents didn’t learn about it until later. But after Dani’s third attempt when she was 22, Jeff and Donna stepped in and got their daughter into treatment for 45 days at a facility in Tennessee.

Once again, Dani began piecing her life back together. She got a rewarding but high-pressure job in Florida, began dating someone new, and had plans for the future. But fate had another bad hand to deal to Dani when her boyfriend died suddenly, throwing her back into darkness and depression.

Dani had learned over the years to pull herself back from “dark moments” she experienced from time to time, dipping into her bucket of resiliency, Jeff said. But somehow on Feb. 11, 2019, “This time she couldn’t find her way out of it.”

The Aftermath

Kieyra Thrush, Dani’s best friend in high school and for years after, saw her at Christmas time in 2018, about six weeks before Dani’s death.

“I told her, ‘You just seem like you’re in such a good place right now.’ I had no clue.”

Kieyra, who is a pediatric nurse practitioner and mother of five children, said her friend had “a great personality and a huge heart. She struggled with self-esteem and put other before herself.”

Dani’s death affected how she works with her patients, Kieyra said. “I always asked my patients how they were doing with their mental health because it was my job. Now I ask people because I’m concerned.”

“People that are close to you could be covering up so well,” she said. “Check closer on your family and friends.”

Tony Coder, head of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, said the Hecks are an inspiration.

“They took the pain and overwhelming sadness that accompanied this tragedy and used that as motivation to help others. They don’t want another family to go through this.”

“Too many times because of stigma people think this is what happens to other families,” Tony said. “But these are the voices that will help others.”

As for Jeff and Donna, they know they sometimes make people very uncomfortable when they talk about Dani’s suicide. But they don’t care.

“This is not a journey we would wish on anybody else,” Donna said.

33 Forever ( is growing by leaps and bounds, having raised about $325,000 thus far. The organization is looking into programs to help provide urgent care for people in mental health crisis and after-care for those leaving psychiatric hospitals. Help on a number of mental health topics is available on the website.

Those in need of immediate help dealing with suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

A wide variety of resources are available through NAMI Ohio (

Thank you to Jeff and Donna Heck and their family for sharing their experience.

Creating Art

Creating Art

Submitted by: Danielle Smart

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls” Pablo Picasso

Art can take many forms: paint on canvas, woodworking, needlepoint, sculpture, or drawing, just to name a few. Humans have been creating artwork for thousands of years as a way to express joy or sorrow, document their experiences, and make the world around them more aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, making art, in any form, can be one of the best things to do for self-care. Creative activities, such as art, increases our sense of hope, self-worth, and well-being, improves our sense of connectedness, and reduces stress as well as improves cell function, boosts brain function, and increases memory1. And do not worry about perfection; art is about making something that brings you joy, not being perfect.

Below are some helpful links for coming up with your own art project:

Painting Tutorials

15+ YouTube Channels to Teach You How to Paint for Free

Knitting Tutorials

12 Knitting Tutorials for Beginners

Coloring Pages (can color online or print)

Drawing Tutorials–cms-28365

Craft Ideas

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