We All Need a “Wingman”

I present to you guest blogger Marcelle Leis, Director of Veteran Services for the Association for Mental Health and Wellness.  Marcelle discusses a proven-strategy from military life that applies well to our challenges with COVID-19.

by Marcelle Leis, M.S.
CMSgt (Ret), USAF/ANG, 1989 – 2013

Side view of the p-40 and the famous p-51 mustangThe wingman concept has its roots in military aviation history. When in the air, the lead pilot’s wingman would stay behind a few feet to look out for the enemy.  Glamorized during the ‘80s movie “Top Gun,” the concept of a wingman was to always keep the lead pilot safe, even at the cost of veering off to fight the enemy.

Adopted in 2012 Air Force-wide, the wingman became a pledge, promise, and commitment between airmen to take care of themselves and those around them in all aspects of life, helping those in need anywhere, anytime. Inscribed in military culture, the term “having your back” is the foundation of trusting relationships.  This concept is taught from day-one of Basic Military Training (BMT) to build a strong, resilient team.

In any relationship, the most critical role of the wingman is to be the introducer of the conversation. You are the person who is unafraid to approach a peer and ask how they are doing.  You are the person that is the active listener in the conversation and knows what signs they may be showing that are “off” their normal personality.  You are the person that has the courage to ask the tough questions and be ready to hand-off to appropriate resources.  The acronym “ACE” is a simple way to remind us how to engage: Ask, Care, Escort.

Anyone can be a good wingman, especially in these unprecedented times.  Reach out to someone on the phone. Initiate a chat on FaceTime. Check-in with an elderly, isolated neighbor. Text colleagues you would normally see during the day at the office just to say hi. When you ask someone how they are doing it can really change the person’s outlook. 

Taking the time to pause your day and connect with others can be the easiest, most rewarding thing we can do.


Need a “wingman?”  Join one of our Dwyer Project Veterans online peer support groups.  We also operate a Peer Support Line as well as online peer support groups for civilians.

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Posted in Coronavirus, COVID-19, Veterans, Wingman

A Blog About FEAR

Corona Virus

False
Expectations
About
Reality

“This is not the Zombie Apocalypse,“ says the physician host on Sirius Channel 121, a 24/7 station launched a week ago Sunday, dedicated to all-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus-but-are-afraid-to- ask-in-public.  The hosts are all highly-qualified and articulate scientists from NYU/Langone. They do not minimize that there is risk for some of our population and that we all need to do our part to reduce risk to these groups and ourselves, whether or not we are a part of that group.

Callers dial in to the station’s hotline asking about their or a loved one’s level of risk of getting or recovering from the virus: “If I have diabetes?” “If my child has asthma?” “If I have no spleen?” “If I’m over 65 but really healthy?” “How long can the virus survive on surfaces I touch?”  All great questions that 20 to 30 minutes of listening time will answer. We all need to make adjustments in our personal hygiene habits, the hosts advise, but we also should continue to live our lives. He and his colleagues provide compelling, factual evidence including comparisons with flu and prior similar viral or bacterial outbreaks.

Over 60 percent of my emails over the past few days have COVID-19 in the subject line. Every government agency that we contract with has their own guidance in addition to guidance from the state and local Departments of Health and the Governor. The federal government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the international World Health Organization (WHO) also chime in with their guidance as do trade associations, attorneys, business consultants and advisors, accountants, and more.

And news strings that I follow earnestly – meaning 24/7 – keep me informed about what our nation, state, and municipalities have reported regarding how many people are being quarantined and whether or not they have been positively identified as having COVID-19. It looks like a social media competition to see who can design the coolest charts and graphs. The program manager in me is envious.

Sadly, I made the mistake of checking my “Clutter” and “Junk” folders, because I don’t want to miss anything: Every airline I fly or have ever flown – and some that I have never flown – boasts about their comprehensive new airplane cleaning strategies. So are the hotels I’ve never stayed in. I really do want to book a flight somewhere, if only because the now-extended daylight is so enticing.

I also really hate the beautiful graphs though that shows what’s happening to some of my retirement funds. But, fortunately, many more advisors have sent me emails that they will soon rescue and protect me and my money.

The FEAR acronym above is one that many therapists use to help people who live with anxiety or panic to get grounded in service of building self-management and recovery tools. Since MHAW has a public role to help people to reduce their sense of panic, here’s my advice to the FEAR-stricken:

  • Ask yourself, “what is my biggest fear” about the COVID-19 virus?
    • If it’s about the illness that exposure might produce, compare your picture of your fear against the facts that experts provide on contagion and recovery/cure rates, which are far-and-away in the positive.
    • While you don’t need to horde a one-year supply of toilet paper and milk, experts advise you have food and supplies if you’re out of commission for two weeks. And, don’t forget, Amazon trucks and planes as well as the U.S. Postal Service are still rolling!
    • If it’s about things you might miss out on if that real big fear were to come true, use the anxiety energy to fuel new motivation and plans for a new life goal, such as a renewed health and wellness goal, a learning or educational goal, or, yes, even a travel goal. Engage real, qualified help to deal with any associated barriers – the flood of emails tells me most are very available. Start your plan now, not when your anxiety reduces as the world picture improves!
  • Wash your hands. Sing “Happy Birthday” or the chorus of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” twice out loud so others can hear and enjoy!
  • Be kind to everyone, even if you have to do it from six feet away. Just maybe they’re also turning their anxiety into goals and we all benefit from your positive presentation of yourself.

Oh, and last, don’t be “like Mike” when it comes to news binging:  Set a time limit on reading email or attending to our mass, competitive media about COVID-19. If you’re driven to read more about just the mental health aspects of COVID-19, you can check out five pages and 24 tips on the topic – Mental Health Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak” – on the World Health Organization’s website!

Thank you NYU/Langone and Sirius XM for providing substance to the “R”.

And, from all of us at MHAW, thank you to our federal, state, and municipal leaders for your strong and pro-active response to this episode.

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Posted in Anxiety, CDC, Centers for Disease Control, Corona Virus, COVID-19, Depression, health, Stress, World Health Organization

What Does Veterans Day Mean To You?

With Veterans Day approaching, it is very fitting that I present to you guest blogger Marcelle Leis, who was recently promoted to the newly created position of Director of Veteran Services.  Ms. Leis was previously Program Director of the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project, a program of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness (MHAW) and Suffolk County United Veterans (SCUV).  She now manages and oversees all Veterans related programs for MHAW including SCUV.

by Marcelle Leis, M.S.
CMSgt (Ret), USAF/ANG
1989 – 2013

Marcelle Leis - Official Photo (Civilian)

Marcelle Leis, MS

The history of Veterans Day began on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. An armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.”

What does Veterans Day means to the people of this great nation today? Every year on November 11, Americans take a day to celebrate all United States military service members that answered the call, regardless of where and when they served. This is not to be confused with Memorial Day, where we somberly reflect on those who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice, or Armed Forces Day when we thank those currently serving in our U.S. military.

As the leader of our agency’s Veteran Service programs, every day is Veterans Day in our world. We are entering another year of unrest around the globe and our service members continue to selflessly put their lives on the line.  Please take a minute of your time to remember someone you may know who served our country with pride and dignity. Call a friend or family member you know and tell them “good job.”  Stop someone if you see them in the community wearing their uniform and thank them for what they do. The support is appreciated!

November 11 is not about a certain war in history. It’s not about a battle fought. It’s not about statistics. It’s not about who did what. And it’s not about hating the enemy. It’s so much more than that. It’s about honor, freedom, selfless sacrifice, and courage. Service is their job, and taking care of our comrades is a mission that lasts beyond our military service time.

So let’s remember that men and women are still fighting and giving their lives for peace in the world. And for many, when they return to U.S. soil, the battle may not be over.

If you know a Veteran that may be struggling, please share the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, Press 1. For more information on the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project, call 631-853-8345 or check them out on Facebook.

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Posted in Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project, Suffolk County United Veterans, Veterans

Using Digital Media to Reach More People

mike and cliff on laptop

Fellow Rotarian Cliff Pfleger (right), owner of Long Island Gun Source, speaks with me about gun safety and suicide. He and his sales team have participated in “safeTALK” seminars that helps recognize indicators of suicide risk.

We tried a new approach, and it worked!

This year, Mental Health Awareness Week was Sunday, October 6 through Saturday, October 12. In prior years, we would work with our partner Mental Health Association of Nassau County to schedule an ambitious program of mental health-related events over the course of the Week.

This time, we tried something different with an aim to reach more people with mental health stories and information at a time when mental health misinformation has never been greater.

We joined with our Nassau colleagues to post a succession of community-produced videos addressing mental health topics – along with promoting a more-modest number of events.

The results exceeded our expectations. Thousands of Long Islanders enriched their understanding of mental health issues via our website, blast emails, and social media posts.

We attracted 1,133 page views on the www.mhaweek.org website during the week — 488 were on the website’s home page, which featured the videos. However, a near equal amount, 432, were on our Schedule of Events page, indicating that people still had a strong interest in attending events.

Each day, we disseminated a new blast email focused on a different theme, such as:

  • The Changing Mental Health Workforce: The Emerging Role of Peers
  • Addressing the Social Determinants of Mental Health
  • Healing and Recovery
  • Mental Health Education and Anti-Stigma
  • Crisis Prevention
  • Veterans Mental Health

Recipients opened these emails an astounding 9,145 times. Each linked to community-produced videos that triggered 4,532 clicks-throughs. In addition, YouTube users clicked on our videos 1,012 times, and our LinkedIn posts garnered 314 impressions.

And there’s more data supporting our strategy: We also posted the video series on Facebook, where they were viewed 5,943 times. Of this figure, 1,034 of our visitors were “engaged.” That means that one out of six people either liked, commented, shared the post, or clicked a link.

The video that attracted greatest interest featured an interview with my fellow Rotarian Cliff Pfleger, owner of the Long Island Gun Source in Medford. Viewed by one-quarter of our Facebook viewers, I talked with Cliff about the connection between gun safety and suicide prevention, including the role that gun sales personnel can serve. Cliff is very on-board when it comes to suicide prevention. He and his sales team have participated in the “safeTALK” seminar series that helps attendees recognize indicators of suicide risk.

Another video that attracted a significant number of viewers was on Children and Anxiety produced by Alexis Rodgers, Coordinator for Mental Health Education here at MHAW. Alexis discussed some of the ways anxiety manifests itself in children and how Mental Health First Aid can help adults assist young people with mental health challenges.

When it comes to public health education, the value of personal presence at actual, live events still holds greatest value – witness the impact of the Mental Health Education in Schools Act.

But in our contemporary era, as the nature of public education evolves, the number of “hits” and “views” suggest it was a smart move to tilt much of our energies more toward online platforms. It helps us reach a larger audience than an event-only approach.

According to the National Institutes of Health, some 26 percent of Americans ages 18 and older – about 1 in 4 adults – suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder within a given year. This figure underscores the vital importance of the full scope of our public education work.

On behalf of everyone associated with our organization as well as our Nassau counterparts, let me extend a message of gratitude to all who contributed to the success of Mental Health Awareness Week this year.

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Posted in Mental Health Awareness Week, Mental Health First Aid, Suicide

Over-Protective Disorder?

Image Border Editor: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/bordersThe recent arrest of parents and coaches for gaming their kids’ path into some of America’s most elite colleges casts an interesting angle into the contemporary mental health of our teens and young adults and, perhaps, some emergent challenges to the norms of contemporary parenting.

I had the opportunity last week to present Mental Health 101 to the Long Island chapter of the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling (NYSACAC). “MH101” is a one-hour construct of the Mental Health Association of New York State and serves to whet the appetite of attendees so that they will connect to the work of the Mental Health for Schools Resource Center as well as MHAs in general. The focus of the session was how colleges can engage prospective and incoming students with mental health resources.

NYSACAC members shared anecdotes about highly protective parents of applicants who all-too-frequently take the preponderance of responsibility for their child’s application, including serving as the point person for phone calls and emails regarding the status of their child’s applications. Several noted questions about the authenticity of the authorship of the student’s essays and also shared their classroom colleagues’ complaints about the invasiveness of parents within academic processes.

A recent TIME article about the state of mental health on college campuses reported a 30 percent increase between 2009 and 2015 in students seeking counseling services at colleges and universities. TIME further reported that, in 2017, “nearly 40 percent of college students said that they had felt so depressed in the past 12 months that it was difficult for them to function.” Furthermore, 61 percent reported that they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the past year. Suicide and self-harm also are reported to be on the rise. The Mental Health First Aid initiative advanced by the National Council for Behavioral Health, which MHAW offers with the help of a SAMHSA grant, now offers an enhanced module specifically for people, including students, who engage with students in higher education venues.

On the positive side, students’ use of services and willingness to be open about their experiences with stress are signs of progress against mental health stigma.  And it is positive that, according to TIME, colleges are stepping up staffing and other mental health responses to the needs of students. However, we also must consider the connection between the rise of these problems and the preparedness of students who take on the challenges and opportunities of college study, once considered a privilege and now considered generally as a necessity for future vocational success. And, here, parental roles – and their own fears about their kids’ plight – have to be examined.

How much parental protectiveness is okay, particularly as children become teens then young adults? Is there, perhaps, criteria to be discussed for “overprotective disorder”— such as when a parent feels so much concern about their child’s plight that they the need to assume functional responsibilities for them, up to and including providing protected paths (including bribery and legal threats) to desired goals? And, in some cases, those goals aren’t always those expressed by the child but more reflect the goals of the parent.

The “nature vs. nurture” debate often arises in conversations, whether clinical or casual, concerning kids. With the opioid crisis and debates about legalizing marijuana, our attention is often on brain development and chemistry, particularly for teens and young adults. Perhaps the travails of those parents whose sense of entitlement has become criminal can serve to swing needed attention to the experiences, pressures, and dynamics of our families.

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Posted in Anxiety, College, Depression, Higher Education, University

The Elusive Homeless Population

joanne homeless count

Joanne Massimo, Program Director, Suffolk County United Veterans

Please welcome Ruth McDade, Director of Development at the Association for Mental Health and Wellness, as a returning guest blogger. Her story below motivates us to continue the important work we do every day. ~ Michael Stoltz

To help identify and address the issue of homelessness on Long Island, Joanne Massimo, Program Director for Suffolk County United Veterans, and I participate each year in the “Point in Time Count.” This annual event is overseen by the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, which is designated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to oversee the regional strategy for ending homelessness. To put the issue of homelessness into perspective, on this day in 2016 the number of homeless people in Suffolk and Nassau counties was 3,937.

This year it was an unusually warm January evening in eastern Suffolk County. Our first stop was a wooded area with a tent barely visible in the distance. Armed with MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and a sleeping bag along with supplies of additional food, personal care items, and a list of housing resources courtesy of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, we called out to announce our presence. Despite our efforts, nobody responded to our offer of assistance. We could only leave a card nearby with a list of housing resources.

Our next stop was a local laundromat. I spoke with the woman behind the counter who informed me there are many homeless people who enter seeking refuge. She said she felt bad for them but after a period of time she has to tell them to leave. When I handed her a card with a list of housing resources, she smiled and thanked me for helping her.

Driving along a main road, Joanne and I spotted a man bundled up in layers of clothes with a shopping cart depositing collected bottles and cans inside a market. When he exited, we asked to speak with him, explaining we were here to help people who were homeless. Even though he was visibly unclean and in need of a shower, the man refused assistance and walked away from us while pushing his shopping cart.

Joanne and I decided to drive to a shack situated at a church set back in the woods. Before we approached the shack, we spoke with a man who shared with us his own story of homelessness, and even though he had since secured housing, he asked us what would happen if his food stamp benefits were to run out in March with the current government shutdown. Our agency operates three food pantries, but it served as a reminder that homelessness can happen to anyone, even to those who do currently receive food stamp benefits. Joanne and I said goodbye to the man and walked on to the shack and announced our presence and offer of assistance. But again, there was no response. So, we once again left a list of housing resources along with supplies of MREs, food, and personal care items.

Our final stop was a Burger King. Joanne and I entered and explained to the woman working behind the counter why we were there. The woman replied there were many homeless people who congregated in the back area of the fast food restaurant. She also told us a story of a woman who once lived in a nearby apartment that had lost her housing and now can be seen walking along the road pushing a shopping cart. We decided to order some food and wait, but again, a homeless person was not to be found.

As a provider of emergency housing – our agency operates The Vets Place shelter in Yaphank – we know firsthand that homelessness does indeed exist here on Long Island.  If more of those on the front lines who routinely encountered people experiencing homelessness had housing resources to distribute, we just might see people exchanging the woods, shacks, and shopping carts, for a safe, permanent place to live.

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Posted in Homeless, Veterans

Visionary Law Mandates Mental Health Education in NY Schools

image-20160315-9262-d4fgb3There’s been an important and encouraging new development on the mental health front in New York State.

A new law holds forth the promise that significantly greater numbers of New Yorkers will be seeking out the care they need – and getting this care – in the years to come.

Effective July 1, an amendment to the State’s education law requires that mental health education must be provided in classrooms statewide. All elementary, middle, and high schools in New York State must modify their curriculum to include mental health as part of existing physical health instruction.

The welcome change is largely the outcome of five years of advocacy led by the Mental Health Association of New York State (MHANYS). New York State should be proud to now stand as a national leader in this vanguard modernization of our health education requirements. Virginia is the only other state with a similar law, and, coincidentally, its law went into effect on the exact same day.

However, this attention to actually getting people into care would be insufficient were it not for legislation passed by both houses – and awaiting the Governor’s signature – to strengthen the State’s Mental Health Parity laws. The “Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Report Act” went beyond the previous law which solely required plans to respond to consumer complaints. The new law requires plans to submit data on key parity measures – such as network adequacy and claims performance – to ensure that people are getting care when they seek it.

Mental heath providers have been painfully aware of the numerous obstacles to care – and we expect these reforms to help overcome some of them. The National Institute of Mental Health says that about 44.7 million Americans aged 18 or older had some form of mental illness in 2016. This represents nearly a fifth of all U.S. adults. Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of mental illness (22 percent) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (21 percent) and aged 50 and older (15 percent). About half of all chronic mental health conditions begin by age 14. About 22 percent of youth aged 13-18 experience serious mental disorders in a given year.

Yet only 43 percent of these adults received mental health treatment that year, with far more women (49 percent) than men (34 percent) getting help. And the percentage of young adults aged 18-25 years with who received treatment (35 percent) was lower than the proportion of adults with mental illness aged 26-49 years (43 percent) and aged 50 and older (47 percent) who got assistance.

Stigma and misinformation about mental illnesses are the most prevalent barriers to people obtaining care but the parity discrepancies have also contributed. To better understand this troublesome gap, Project Access – a study group convened by Roslyn Heights-based North Shore Child and Family Guidance – asked people who had successfully entered mental health care about their experience of obtaining that care. Fifty percent found it significantly more challenging than seeking physical health care. Three out of five said it took between two and 16 contacts to make a connection for mental health care.

Almost 24 percent couldn’t find providers that accepted their insurance. Nearly 39 percent had problems with affordability, 21 percent cited personal indecision as a factor, and 24 percent said their attempts at accessing help were futile.  Regrettably, these obstacles contribute to increasing rates of suicide, substance abuse, addiction morbidities, legal problems, social isolation, and other social and economic struggles.

These new laws represent a good start to helping address many of these barriers.

To help with implementation of the education law, MHANYS will soon launch an online School Mental Health Resource and Training Center that will be available to public and private schools statewide. The Center, supported with funding from the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, will provide assistance and guidance, a hotline for school districts, and a team of experts in education and mental health.

We agree with the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health, Dr. Ann Sullivan, who said that “by introducing mental health education at age-appropriate levels from elementary through high school, mental health will be normalized just as physical health is, stigma will be reduced, and children and parents will learn about prevention, and when and how they should ask for help.”

Coupled with insurance parity strengthening, this visionary law will encourage early intervention for mental health conditions – breaking from a pattern where too many commence their care after a hospital or ER visit. It can also serve as a catapult to efforts to ensure the repair of access issues. Let’s encourage and support our school districts to all do what they can to make the law a success.

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Posted in Depression, Education, mental health, Parity, Schools, Stigma
Association for Mental Health and Wellness
631-471-7242

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