Constance Alexander: Recent violent events highlight the need to reassess community mental health resources

Mental Health Awareness Month has come and gone, but the violent events of the past few weeks have forced many of us to assess mental health resources in our own communities. In Murray, a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with mental illness and their families through support, education and defense of interests.

Led by Brenda Benson, Local President, the group meets once a month on the third Thursday. Participants are not just from Calloway County. In addition to the locals, others travel from Cadiz and Paris Tennessee, to share their stories and gather useful information.

“We are a welcoming group,” said Brenda Benson.

People search for NAMI for a variety of reasons, according to Benson.

“Sometimes it’s just helpful to realize that you’re not the only one dealing with it. There are many of us. In my own case,” she explained, “I went to a meeting when I realized I couldn’t handle this on my own.”

She has been with NAMI for over ten years and her involvement has led to advocacy efforts on behalf of people with mental illness, their families and communities.

“My son is schizophrenic,” she said. “NAMI is a great support for our family. It strives to raise awareness and serve as a support group. Bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, depression and anxiety disorders are the most common problems.

According to NAMI’s official website, the group recognizes a variety of conditions, including those mentioned by Benson and more, including PTSD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, OCD, eating disorders, addiction and suicide.

When I first contacted Ms. Benson for an interview, Wynona Judd’s suicide had just been reported. Regarding NAMI’s work, Benson emphasized the importance of gaining valuable information even in the midst of tragedy.

“Mental illness can strike any gender, any age, any family,” she said.

Indeed, national statistics reinforce the need for organizations like NAMI.

• 1 in 5 American adults suffer from mental illness every year
• 1 in 20 American adults suffers from serious mental illness every year
• 1 in 6 young Americans between the ages of 6 and 17 suffers from a mental health disorder each year
• 50% of all mental illnesses in life begin at age 14 and 75% at age 24

The road to these accomplishments has been the road less traveled, according to Sheila Schuster, licensed psychologist and executive director of the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition. When she began practicing in her field in 1975, she began speaking about mental health to APE groups.

“The parents were eager to learn,” she said, “and the pediatricians had no time to talk.”

In addition to sensitizing parents and schools, the need for advocacy to change legislation at state and national levels has become another priority. On April 21, 2000, Kentucky Governor Paul E. Patten signed into law HB268, requiring health insurance plans providing mental illness coverage to provide full parity with other illnesses, making Kentucky the 30th state country to enact legislation that restricts the imposition of annual or lifetime limits on mental health benefits that are lower than the limits imposed on medical/surgical benefits.

This step is just one of many. Dr Schuster described the path to parity as a ‘David and Goliath’ struggle, with ongoing efforts to improve current laws and raise awareness of the need to create new ones that cover mental health issues.
“Kentucky was the first in the United States to establish a statewide network of mental health centers, but now we’re at rock bottom,” she explained. “We do advocacy all the time.”

Over the past two years, the impact of COVID-19 has been felt by people of all ages in a variety of ways. The disruption of so many routines at work and home, in schools and communities, has caused anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Racial, religious and ethnic injustice, political unrest and government and law enforcement responses have added to this complicated mix. Additionally, gun violence is on the rise, with more than 200 mass shootings so far in 2022.

According to Dr. Schuster, “We underestimate the impact. The pandemic has caused apprehensions, fear of the unknown, a feeling of things getting out of control. All of these factors combine to create enormous anxiety.

While dealing with their own mental health issues, parents manage situations with children of all ages. “If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t put things into words, anxiety results,” Dr. Schuster explained. “We tend to say, ‘Don’t worry about that,’ but that’s the opposite of what we need to hear.”

Instilling fear in people of all ages, school shootings cannot be ignored. They are not going away and need to be discussed.

“Sit on your own anxiety and listen,” Schuster advises. “Be prepared to hear what your children are saying. Their feelings are legitimate. Keep talking, asking, ‘What do you want to know? How do you feel?’ Your information is better than what kids get from social media. »

Murray State University’s Director of Academic Counseling Services, Dr. Angie Trzepacz, has seen the same fears and anxieties among students, faculty and staff. “The lack of control, the inability to plan, the uncertainty. They don’t know what to expect. »

On the other hand, “there’s not as much stigma around seeking mental health support,” she said. “More people are getting help, but we don’t have more resources to help.”

When COVID was at its peak, many organizations resorted to online meetings rather than live, which made it easier to participate remotely. In Murray, the June NAMI meeting will be held in person, with a Zoom option, providing access for those seeking information and support. The meeting location in June was changed to the Murray-Calloway County Hospital Wellness Center, 716 Poplar Street. For more information, contact [email protected] or 270-748-6133.

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