News, stories, and resources for Mental Illness Awareness week

This coverage was originally published in The Incline’s newsletter on 10/8/2021.

Trigger warning: stories linked below may include references to trauma, sexual assault, suicide, etc.

What you need to know about mental health in Pittsburgh

📈 Pediatric patients seeking mental health treatment is up 30% since the spring of 2020, according to UPMC, where pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Abigail Schlesinger practices. Listen to her interview with WESA reporter Sarah Boden where they talk about how children of all ages have been impacted by the pandemic. (90.5 WESA)

🔍 The pandemic has magnified the stress of Pittsburghers suffering with addiction. Before COVID-19, public health officials were already struggling to reduce the drug overdose epidemic, and from 2019 to 2020, data from the CDC showed a 29% increase in fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. Listen to WESA talk with Jen Ackerson, a therapist who provides outpatient treatment at Jade Wellness Center. (90.5 WESA)

🗣️ Race-based trauma is defined as the mental and emotional injury caused by racially motivated violence and discrimination. It’s becoming a larger part of national conversations, and locally, Black therapists see this in their sessions. WESA interviews Neal Holmes, a therapist who specializes in treating Black Pennsylvanians, and he talks about what it’s like to be a therapist during a particularly traumatizing time for Black Americans. (90.5 WESA)

👀 Did you know that you can treat trauma with your eyes? Claire Lindsey and Jennifer Szweda Jordan of Unabridged Press wrote this piece about how EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, can be a valuable treatment for people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. While a patient follows the finger movements of a certified EMDR therapist, they recall feelings of trauma, and this helps to move the emotions from the “fight or flight” part of the brain and puts them in the part that manages emotional reactions. (PublicSource)

Highlighting the helpers

💚 With more people seeking mental health help, costs and wait times can be barriers to treatment. Learn more about how local organizations like Steel Smiling, Forward Allies, and Visible Hands Collaborative have stepped up to fill in the gaps. (PublicSource)

💜 The pandemic isolated people experiencing domestic violence, but local organizations worked together to extend community outreach and support. In times of crisis, like the pandemic, domestic violence cases tend to rise. Along with that, the abrupt loss of connection to support networks often causes the abuse to be underreported. Read more on how these Pittsburgh groups innovated to keep lifelines open. (PublicSource)

💙 While faith leaders aren’t formally trained in mental health counseling, they’re often on the frontlines of intervention. According to this article by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, nearly one in four people turn to a spiritual leader before seeking help from a mental health professional. “And yet, as Greenbaum explained, most rabbis receive little to no formal mental health training during rabbinical school. For that reason, he said, it’s important that rabbis respect their limits and communicate those limits clearly to their congregants.” (Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle with PublicSource)

💗 Grow Mama Grow hub — a database of affordable, online courses — is the latest venture by Muffy Mendoza, the mind behind Brown Mamas. With online courses offering expertise from moms with potty training experience to a certified doula or wellness coach, Grow Mama Grow hub helps Black moms by allowing them to share their experiences and collect income on a share of fees. Mendoza started Brown Mamas 9 years ago after suffering from postpartum depression as a young mother, and the organization has more than 5,000 (and growing) women in Pittsburgh and beyond. (PublicSource)

Powerful personal essays from our neighbors

💌 Local comedian and musician Terry Jones shares how becoming a dad helped to save his life after years of struggling with depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and PTSD: “I am a superhero in their eyes and have the chance to make all my wrongs right again. I have a chance to help them avoid all of my suffering. I know there are things I can’t protect them from. I know there are things that will be traumatic for them. But no matter what the issues are, I make sure I am there.” (PublicSource)

📝 Mariah Wilber’s path to a career in public health and public service all started with an HIV diagnosis. She had to get past the stigma of having HIV, and eventually she had to do the same with her mental illness. Through this essay, she connects the dots to her younger self — the one struggling with homelessness, trauma, sexual and substance abuse — and allows space for compassion. Today, she uses that same compassion to lead in public health and justice reform. (QBurgh)

  • Quotable: “I will accept whatever diagnosis aligns most closely with my symptoms, while also understanding that human diversity is rich, the line between “normal” and “ill” is subjective, and we don’t fit neatly into checkboxes or categories.” — Mariah Wilber

🍽️ “It all started with a muffin.” That’s how Dr. Rachel Kallem Whitman opened up her first-person essay about how a gift from a stranger helped to kickstart her mental health recovery. She shares the woes of imposter syndrome as she was writing her dissertation in disability studies for an Educational Leadership degree at Duquesne University, enduring struggles she experiences with bipolar 1 disorder, and the lessons she has learned while coping and recovering. (PublicSource)

One more thing…

Pittsburgh City Paper spoke to local organizations that offer suicide-prevention resources and support. They offered advice on how to recognize if/when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, how to help address those thoughts, and how to maintain support for them.

Editor’s note:

If you made it to the bottom, and stopped along the way to read/listen to some of these stories, thank you. We can only help each other through talking about mental illness and the varying of ways it impacts the human experience. I, for one, am one that it affects. I’ve had anxiety my whole life, depression for some of it, and PTSD after surviving a brain tumor. Heavy stuff, right? Not if we help carry each other through it.

We are humans, we are neighbors. Love yourselves and each other.

✨412 forever,

Francesca Dabecco, Director of The Incline