CAPITOL HEIGHTS – Mental health is just as important as physical health, and county officials are trying to connect residents with services to help improve it. To facilitate this, Prince George’s County Councilwoman Karen Toles, who represents District 7, hosted “Changing Minds: A Mental Health Conference on the State of Mental Health in the Minority […]
CAPITOL HEIGHTS – Mental health is just as important as physical health, and county officials are trying to connect residents with services to help improve it.
To facilitate this, Prince George’s County Councilwoman Karen Toles, who represents District 7, hosted “Changing Minds: A Mental Health Conference on the State of Mental Health in the Minority Community” inside The Sanctuary at Kingdom Square on July 30.
Toles, who is chair of the county council’s Health, Education, and Human Services Committee, partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), The Ivy Community Charities Inc. of Prince George’s County, National Harbor Chapter of Jack & Jill of America Inc., and The White Rose Foundation to put on an informative event.
Each organization’s key leaders in the field of mental health came out to speak with residents about the mental and behavioral challenges that affect Prince George’s minorities. Speakers touched on a broad range of issues including addressing stigmas of mental illness, identifying mental health crisis and navigating services for support.
“When our mental health is right, our children and communities are better,” Toles said. She stressed the importance of seeking mental health support to a community that is riddled with negative mindsets about therapeutic or counseling services.
Those who choose to seek professional help are viewed as being less than, looked down upon for failing to uphold a tough interior, Toles said. The judgment and criticism from peers can deter some from getting the help they are entitled to receive.
Despite the readily-available help that is offered to Prince George’s residents, only 7 percent of the county’s community is accessing services. Aware of these statistics, Pamela Creekmur with the county health department is working to spread awareness of mental illness and promote services and programs that are available.
“There is help for you and your tax dollars pay for it,” Creekmur said.
The county’s health department was awarded a $4 million grant (over four years) last year to expand mental health services for children, youth and their families by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). This System of Care Expansion Implementation Grant will be used to expand the health department’s services that target youth ages 0-21 and their families.
In an effort to spread this information to community residents, a task force consisting of certified therapists, social workers, and other health professionals has met over the years, Creekmur said. The task force conducted community assessments and research to figure out where and in what ways help is needed for those who are experiencing mental issues.
One psychologist, Dr. Kim Singleton, who also attended the event, is involved with reaching out to minorities in the hopes of dispelling myths and other cultural biases surrounding mental health. She gave out free copies of her book, “Broken Silence: Opening Your Heart and Mind to Therapy,” which recounts inspiring stories about black women who sought out professional treatment and overcame their mental health problems.
“Emotional injuries are just as devastating, but we ignore them because they’re invisible,” Singleton said.
Identifying mental health issues is difficult, as many do not overtly display warning signs. Still, singleton noted a few signs of depression to watch out for. They include unexplained feelings of sadness or hopelessness, loss of interest in once enjoyed activities, loss of appetite or extreme hunger and sudden mood swings.
According to NAMI of Prince George’s County, one in five adults and one in 10 children are diagnosed each year with a mental health condition. Executive Director for the county’s NAMI, Collette Harris, said mental health conditions do not discriminate.
“What we all must realize is that mental illness can strike in our lives at any point in time,” Harris said.
Harris suggested first contacting the health department, which can provide a list of services available. Those who attended the conference were encouraged to dial 3-1-1, a non-emergency call system. By calling this number, residents are able to obtain information about social services agencies and any other community concerns.
NAMI itself also offers counseling and support groups, free of charge. These support groups meet monthly and are designed as an expressive outlet. People who are affected by a loved one’s mental condition are also welcome to attend the group meetings.
The health panel speakers are aware of the sometimes lengthy process that can pose an issue for those who seek help. They suggested asking about getting in contact with a SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery Technical Assistance center. These assistances run through SAMSHA are a direct connection to Social Security and, if proper documentation is provided, can bypass the standard process.
To learn more information about the health services offered at the county level, visit http://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/.