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: https://namiohio.org/local-chapters/
You can also stay connected on social media. Most affiliates have an active Facebook page with up to date and inspiring information.
YouthMOVE Ohio & NAMI Ohio Host Online 14-Day “Healthy at Home Challenge”
Daily activities, jokes, riddles, and inspirational quotes will be posted via social media platforms over the next 14 days to assist people in coping with the “stay-at-home” order
COLUMBUS, OHIO. – March 26, 2020 – YouthMOVE Ohio, a youth program under NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Ohio, announces a virtual “Healthy at Home Challenge” designed to help youth, young adults and families of all ages cope with the isolating effects of the “state-at-home” order.
For 14 days, beginning March 30, 2020, YouthMOVE Ohio will post daily activities, jokes, riddles, and inspirational quotes for youth to participate in and share with others. The posts are intended to decrease feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation.
Those that participate are encouraged to share, tweet, or post their completion of each day’s challenge. Youth and young adults who participate will be entered into a drawing for Amazon gift cards for their participation when they share or report their progress.
These daily challenges will be posted on YouthMOVE Ohio and NAMI Ohio’s websites
YouthMOVE Ohio council members around Ohio will be available for media questions.
For more information about the challenge email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.youthmoveohio.com
Art is more than something that hangs on a wall. In Toledo, art is helping people with mental illness get in touch with their feelings, communicate with others, and improve their self-esteem.
The Creative Expressions program pioneered by NAMI of Greater Toledo is engaging about 1,000 people each year in a variety of volunteer-led art activities. Started in 2014, the program allows people to express themselves through art, make a connection, and grow positive skills, according to Kristen L. Zientek, program coordinator for NAMI of Greater Toledo.
Funded in part through the Mental Health Services and Recovery Board of Lucas County, Creative Expressions began working with adults, children and families in the criminal justice system as well as the Latino population. However, it has now expanded dramatically to include Toledo Public Schools, LGBT teens, runaway teens and individuals with developmental disabilities, Zientek said.
While peer-led, Creative Expressions has a licensed art therapist, Carol Coder, on board with the program.
Zientek said volunteers pick a theme, usually one related to mental health support, such as self-esteem. The art projects evolve from the theme, such as one where participants added affirming statements to mirrors to look at themselves in a more positive way.
“At the end, they share a little bit about their projects. They are talking about their projects, but they’re really talking about themselves as well,” Zientek said. “Sometimes people can express themselves with colors and images better than words.”
About 1,000 people are involved in 13 on-going art groups, with some folks involved in more than one group.
Doing art in a no-pressure, no-judgment environment “reduces stress, helps builds connections with others who might be isolated. It’s free and all materials are provided,” she said. “There’s not a lot of programs that are free and fun. A lot of people say they like that it’s peer-led. They feel like are part of something. It helps empower them. If they’re hesitant about something, it helps them step out of their comfort zone.”
Sarah Bradish, a volunteer with Creative Expressions and NAMI, said she started in July of 2016. “Since NAMI has helped me get through so much of my mental health wellness journey, I figured it was time for me to give back.”
Sarah said volunteering with Creative Expressions “gave me hope on sharing what talents I have with our community…. It helped me come out of my shell and eased my transition of being in public. The program helped me grow to be a consistent dependable person. It also prepared me to use important life skills of working with others and troubleshoot problems as needed.”
The growth Sarah experienced through NAMI helped her to begin working again at a part-time job, she said. She continues to volunteer with Creative Expressions “because the community needs a program like this. There are a lot of creative people out there that need more than a ‘talk’ support group. It is great seeing people of all ages learn a new skill, help them open up, ask questions, break the stigma, and learn that there are people like me that can get healthy and contribute. I’m so thankful for this program! It is truly a life-changing experience. I thought being diagnosed with a mental illness would keep me from having a better life. I am proof that people can change, learn new ideas, learn new skills, and lead by example.”
For a video look at the Creative Expressions program, follow this link:
More information about Creative Expressions is available by calling NAMI of Greater Toledo at 419 243-1119 or online at www.namitoledo.org
Written By: Alan Johnson, NAMI Ohio Contract Writer
Danei Edelen was a nervous wreck the day she was to return to work after having a mental health crisis that required hospitalization.
“I was so scared. I laid out all my clothes and took a shower the night before to be as ready as possible. I woke up extra early to have time to ‘just be ready,’ she wrote.
On the way to work, she thought, “What am I going to say to these people? ‘Hi! I just had a psychotic break, what’s going on in your life?’”
She worried what her new co-workers would say around the coffee pot, if they would think of her like a patient from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
But minute by minute, day by day, month by month, Edelen regained her confidence and footing on the job and in life in general.
Now she is executive director of the Brown County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio. She helped create the NAMI affiliate a year ago in the rural county with few mental health service providers, but people with needs like everywhere else in the state.
“I am a thoroughly middle class mother in the heartland of Ohio,” she said “This is who I am. I was angry at the world for an extremely long time. I would verbally lash out.”
But with the help of medication, counseling, and the support of family and friends, Edelen is doing the work she wants to do – helping and inspiring others. Her seven-year journey from a breakdown to the present was bumpy, she said. She felt alone and isolated at first.
“When you walk off that psych ward, it’s like there is this red cloak with every word for crazy written on it.”
Edelen said it’s vital that people get connected to mental health providers and to NAMI. “You are not alone. That is the message,” she said
Deanna Vietze, executive director of the Brown County Board of Mental Health & Addiction Services, said Edelen came to her with the idea of forming a NAMI chapter. “The way she found NAMI was very positive,” Vietze said. “She wanted to help others.”
“She’s able to share her story and give others the hope it’s not a death sentence, that you can overcome and be a functioning member of society. It gives them a voice. They know when they’re going through something she’s been there as well.”
Vietze said rural Ohio has the same mental health issues as urban areas, but fewer resources and a problem with transportation.
On top of those concerns, people in Appalachian Ohio “learn you pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You don’t go to others for help. That often means there are families with years of untreated mental illness,”
Edelen, who lives with her husband on 13.5 acres in Brown County, is devoted to helping end the stigma of mental illness by speaking out.
“Silence does not aid understanding,” she wrote. “That is why I have come ‘out of the closet’ about my mental illness. That is why I am a presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I am committed to ending the silence.”
Written By: Alan Johnson, NAMI Ohio Contract Writer
The voices in his head and hallucinations had haunted Wesley Walker incessantly for months by the time he found himself on the fifth floor of a parking garage.
The date was Jan. 3, 2013.
Suffering from chronic depression and schizoaffective disorder, Walker’s mental illness told him he was in a coma, perhaps in the hospital. He wanted to wake up, to snap out of it, to get his life back.
“I thought I could hit my head hard enough, maybe I’ll wake up,” Walker recalls thinking. At the parking garage, “I remember jumping off and falling and right before I hit I blacked out.”
For most people, that would have been the end. But miraculously – and perhaps for a greater purpose – Walker survived his leap. However, he experienced severe injuries, including a broken ankle, knee cap, femur and extensive facial damage.
Walker, now 28, today is an advocate with NAMI Ohio, telling the story of his remarkable mental health journey to school groups and others, focusing on suicide prevention and mental health awareness.
“I had this disorder since sixth grade. I consider myself very lucky,” Walker said in an interview.
One of Walker’s primary themes is “ending the silence…I tell them you are never alone in what you’re going to do. Being alone is the easiest way to get in a dark spot.”
“I want to help people before they are where I was at and do that leap,” he said.
Karen Cousins, program director for NAMI Franklin County and a NAMI Ohio board member, has worked closely with Walker to help him get out his story.
“He works at the Ending the Silence program where he goes to schools and he talks with police crisis teams. He wants to tell people what he’s gone through so he can help others,” Cousins said. “Everybody doesn’t get that second chance.”
“I think he was spared to be an advocate,” she continued. “He understands his illness. When people hear his story, it’s like “if he can do it, maybe I can give it a shot’”
Born in New York City, Walker’s family moved to Ohio when he was an infant, settling in the Hilliard area. He said he had poor social skills and experienced difficulty relating to others beginning at a young age. After high school, he attended Heidelberg University in Tiffin, but did not graduate.
By 2012, Walker was suffering from deepening depression and, although he didn’t know what it was at the time, his schizoaffective disorder was kicking in with accompanying voices in his head, delusions and hallucinations. His delusions were frighteningly real; he believed a co-worker was Jesus and imagined the tendons were being ripped out of his body.
He was hospitalized several times, went to a drug rehabilitation program, having lied to his parents that he was using drugs when he wasn’t. It was easier, he thought at the time, than telling them what was really going on in his head.
For four agonizing years, Walker went without medication, struggling through relationships with his family and friends, bouncing between jobs, and at one point becoming homeless. While his recollections of those years is hazy, Walker knows he was maced after an altercation in a bar, and later suffered a psychotic break from reality.
Finally, in 2016, Walker was prescribed an anti-psychotic medication that worked for him, beginning a recovery journey that continues to this day. Through it all, his family was tolerant, enduring and patient because as Walker puts it “they didn’t know what was going on either and after each delusion/episode my family continued to support me.”
While medication helped, Walker credits a song by the British musical group Mumford & Sons with helping him bring clarity and focus to his life. “It spoke to me, word for word. I still listen to it today.”
“The Cave” says in part:
And I will hold on hope and I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again
NAMI Ohio Executive Director Terry Russell appointed to the RecoveryOhio Advisory Council. Click here to read the full story