By Matt Gleason
Mental Health Association Oklahoma
During our Mental Health Download podcast, we usually take on just one of four powerful topics each month. Well, during our latest episode we take on all four — mental illness, suicide, incarceration, and homelessness. The reason we’re taking on all four topics is because we’re talking about New Year’s resolutions that won’t make you lose weight or help you start exercising, but they will give you opportunities to make a big difference in your community.
Listen to the podcast now, or simply check out the below edited and condensed highlights. By the way, the Mental Health Download is now available via these podcasting apps…
Help End Homelessness
Noe Rodriguez leads our Homeless Outreach and Rapid Response team. They work on the front lines of helping to end homelessness in Tulsa. Together, they provide mobile street outreach to individuals and families experiencing homelessness. The team members seek people out wherever they may be, whether that’s an encampment, under a bridge or on the streets. Through regular contact, they build trust and relationships as they connect people to essential community services. In addition, they work with law enforcement to ensure people stay connected to services and avoid being ticketed or incarcerated. Their ultimate goal is to give people experiencing homelessness and their families an opportunity to start new lives.
Q: Noe, as someone who’s out on the front lines of ending homelessness, what are some of the ways our listeners can help the people you serve every day?
Create Care Packages
Well, there’s a variety of things. I think one is care packs or blessing bags, whatever you want to call them. Basically, it’s a hygiene pack, some food in it and maybe some Hot Hands or gloves for the winter. We separate the packs for the seasons and for male and female.
If any group or civic organization or, for instance, Girl Scout troop, and anyone else who would like to make packs, we have has a list of what we recommend to put in the packs. Visit mhaok.org/volunteer for more details. Those packs go directly into the hands of people who are the most vulnerable people who are unsheltered and staying out.
Then, there is the Association’s Adopt-a-Home program. It’s a great concept that provides a home for someone who is unsheltered for six months. They’re able to get into an apartment and we’re able to help them start rebuild their lives. Visit the website at adoptahomeok.org.
Recognize Someone’s Humanity
Q: What are some of those little things that people can do just as on a human-to-human level to treat people with dignity and respect.
For individuals who are panhandling, one of their biggest concerns, is they feel invisible. Although you may not give them any money or change, which we recommend, simply look at them and wave. Speaking kind words to them is sometimes all that they need to hear. But I know that’s a difficult thing to do when you feel maybe, I don’t know what the right word is, guilty, which you shouldn’t. Instead, look at him, wave, say good morning and maybe say a prayer for them.
Dr. Julie Summers leads our Outreach and Prevention Services department. Julie also leads many of our QPR suicide trainings that are teaching people to ask a question and save a life from suicide.
Q: So, Julie, can you tell us what ordinary people can do as this new year is starting to be a part of the solution to prevent suicide?
One of the things that is common in people who are feeling suicidal is that they’re isolated. So, I think one of the things that all of us can do is just reach out beyond ourselves to people who are struggling or people we know might be kind of isolated and check in with them. Let them know we’re thinking about them and that we care about them.
Join a QPR Training
Q: Can you give me some of the steps that they can do to join a QPR session?
Well, the Association and some other organizations as are offering QPR in various places throughout the community, including faith communities, businesses and community groups. So, if you’d like to be a part of QPR, contact the Association to let us know that you are interested. I actually became involved in the mental health field because I knew of somebody who died by suicide. I felt like I wanted to be a part of the solution. Learning about QPR turned the tide for me, in terms of feeling like anybody can make a difference because it’s so simple. You learn how to ask the question. You learn how to persuade someone to get help and you learn how to be the help that helps them get referred until help comes. So question, persuade and refer, QPR, can just make such a difference and it’s such a quick training that anybody can learn how to do it.
Our QPR training will empower your business, school, faith community or civic organization to effectively intervene on behalf of someone with thoughts of suicide or who is in crisis. The training takes approximately one hour to complete and is ideal for 25 or fewer participants at a time. To schedule a QPR training for your business, school, faith community or civic organization, you may call 918.585.1213 or 405.943.3700.
Recognize the Warning Signs of Suicide
If somebody is very withdrawn and isolated. If they start giving away things that are important to them. If they are withdrawing from things they once enjoyed. They are talking about death or talking about not being here. Those are all pretty strong warning signs that something has shifted. It’s really important to address that and to do two things: (1) Ask the question and (2) have in mind the resources that you refer someone to and where do you refer them to. Any emergency room or a mental health clinic is going to have someone on-call who can help you. So ask the question and be prepared to refer.
Reduce Incarceration of People Experiencing Mental Illness
Melissa Baldwin oversees our criminal justice reform efforts. She explains what you can do to make an impact to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated.
Q: What are some of the tips you would give?
Educate Yourself about the Issues
So I think the first step is to make up your mind that this matters to you because it really should. Also, from a taxpayer standpoint, it’s one of the most expensive things that we can do is incarcerate human beings. It’s also has some of the most serious and grave consequences. This is a significant issue that needs to be understood by more people in the community.
Engage with Local and National Initiatives
After you’ve decided that this is important to you, really start to educate yourself because it’s confusing. It’s a big complex system. A lot of people don’t know the difference between a jail and a prison and that’s OK. So find ways to engage and that can look differently depending on where you are in the state and in your community. For me, I started engaging through my church. We had a group on criminal justice and that’s where I started to learn information. There are also a lot of national efforts that you can stay in tune with, such as Stepping Up that’s a nationwide initiative. It’s really driven more on a local county level with the goal of reducing the number of people with mental illness in jail. You could go to www.stepuptogether.org and learn more.
Here at Mental Health Association Oklahoma, we do advocacy alerts, so if you want to stay informed on more of a state level policy with criminal justice, you could go to our website and sign up for advocacy alerts at mhaok.org/advocacy There’s also another statewide coalition that really focuses on this, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.
Ultimately, there are many ways of taking action, but, really, it starts with building a foundation of knowledge about the system.
Fight the Stigma of Mental Illness
Mike Brose has served as the Association’s CEO for over 25 years. The question we have for Mike is what people can do to help fight the stigma of mental illness that often keeps people experiencing mental illness from seeking treatment for fear someone may find out.
Q: So, Mike, what’s your take on a New Year’s resolution to battle the stigma of mental illness?
We’ve arrived at that moment in history where we don’t have to be embarrassed about admitting that we or someone we know or love has a mental health issue. Let’s just go ahead and be open and talked about it. And, by the way, I think more and more celebrities are being much more open about it. I always think of Demi Lavato first, but there are others. There is something in our culture that when our celebrities are open about mental illness and substance use, it empowers the general public to be open about it as well. In our own worlds, we can have the same impact that celebrities have on battling stigma. I think that has been a real game changer. People can do that in their own worlds when they are at their child’s school, in their faith communities, at work, and with their neighbors and at home. This is a New Year’s resolution I hope everyone makes.
Want to Get More Involved with Mental Health Association Oklahoma?
Take time to explore our website. We’d also love to hear from you. Call us at 918.585.1213 or 405.943.3700. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.