National Suicide Prevention Week is September 5-11 this year. The week-long event encourages both people and organizations to raise awareness and educate about suicide prevention and mental health. This year, the pandemic has affected many people’s mental health, and a few local organizations are working to make a difference.
Life of Joy Foundation
Joy Cortina of the Life of Joy Foundation, an organization dedicated to fostering a holistic approach to mental health and suicide prevention, said she has observed a great need for mental health reform locally.
“It's clear that the need is really great,” Cortina said. “It was already a rising need before the pandemic hit, but especially in light of the pandemic, its only exasperated locally.”
This year, she said, has been important for addressing mental health and suicide prevention.
“I know from stats from the county police department that we're on pace to exceed the number of suicides in our county, this year over last year,” Cortina said.
Life of Joy seeks to address reform from three directions: accessibility, affordability and defeating the stigma.
Making resources and other organizations accessible to the people who need them is a big part of Life of Joy’s outreach events. Getting help can also be expensive. Cortina is working to offer cost assistance to individuals who are trying to get help through Life of Joy Foundation. One of the more prominent issues is addressing the stigma and encouraging people to get help before it is too late.
“Statistics show that people tend to not reach out for help until very long into their struggle,” Cortina said. “They try to kind of deal with it on their own because there's denial, there's fear. The stigma is a huge thing that people hold back from seeking care.”
Life of Joy Foundation is working hard to assist people in getting the resources that they need to get better. Cortina encourages the community to get involved because raising awareness can make all the difference in the world.
“Seeking support sooner than later is really key,” Cortina said. “Really just building your own toolbox, building your awareness, engaging in things in the community. That's really the biggest piece of advice that I have, because it's all about awareness.”
Sherry and Larry Leikin, the founders of Ellie’s Bus, said that mental health awareness and activism has improved drastically.
“I think there's a lot more awareness and that is a good thing,” Larry said. “Internationally, nationally and locally, there is more awareness of the problem.”
Sherry cited Simone Biles stepping away from the women’s gymnastics all-around, floor and uneven bars events at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health. Sherry said that this encourages children to know that it is OK to step away, especially in Severna Park, where athletics are valued.
“When Simone Biles stepped out of the Olympics, that was a huge way of signaling to kids that even the greatest athletes in the world can have to deal with mental issues and mental distress,” Sherry said. “I really think it's slowly starting to turn, and people are recognizing the importance of good mental health and keeping yourself healthy.”
While the situation may be improving, there is still work to be done. With Ellie’s Bus, the Leikins hope to continue to spread awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention.
“It's all about education and making sure that kids understand that they have a place to go if they're not feeling right, and mostly to teach kids to look out for their friends,” Larry said.
The Leikins encourage children, or even adults, who are struggling to find help with their parents, friends, or even starting with a primary care physician to point them in the direction if they do not know where to turn.
“Go to anybody. If you don't want to go to your parents, go to a coach or whoever you feel comfortable going to,” Larry said. “That's what we want to encourage kids to do.”
The Leikins encourage everyone to look out for their friends and to educate themselves. A little awareness and education could make all of the difference.
To learn more about Ellie’s Bus, visit www.elliesbus.org.
National Alliance on Mental Health - Anne Arundel County
Fred Delp, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Health Anne Arundel County (NAMIAAC,) said the current state of mental illness and health in Anne Arundel County is in desperate need of help. Delp said there are three big obstacles standing in the way of improving the situation. The first is education about warning signs and symptoms for mental illness and health, and resources within the community. The second is the lack of mental health professionals in the area.
“We need to have more psychiatry in our caring for mental health,” Delp said. “There’s a shortage of psychiatrists in our county. It's very difficult, especially in the African American and Latino communities.”
He also mentioned that local hospitals have only 40 beds for acute psychiatric care, and they are nearly always full and only for patients over the age of 18. The third and most discussed obstacle is the stigma surrounding mental health and illness. That stigma keeps people from having tough conversations.
“The community needs to be aware of these things,” Delp said. “Mental health seems to take a backseat.”
NAMIAAC offers many free programs to educate, raise awareness and offer support to the community. The nine signature programs offer resources and education for caregivers and parents, advocates, individuals with mental illness and mentors. Delp said NAMIAAC reaches out to thousands of people within the county each year and attends workplace events to educate. The team also operates a warmline seven days a week that allows them to speak to people directly.
At the end of August, Delp met with County Executive Steuart Pittman to discuss the work NAMIAAC does in the community. During that presentation, Delp suggested that the county should be more transparent with the community about the realities of mental health in the community.
“I'm just saying we need a stronger, bigger effort to let the community know about all the mental health resources in the county,” Delp said.
To learn more about NAMIAAC or find resources, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For help, call the warmline at 443-569-3498.