HEADLINES

Mental Health in Focus: October is Depression Awareness Month

This October more than ever before—mental health matters. Day-, week- and month-long observations serve as a backdrop to the effect the pandemic is having on everyone’s mental well-being. National Depression Screening Day was October 8; World Mental Health Day was October 10; Mental Illness Awareness Week ran from October 4 through 10, and finally it’s National Depression Education and Awareness Month.

People are fortunately acknowledging these issues and events, and taking action because anxiety and depression are at an all-time high as the pandemic continues. Putnam’s mental health advocates, from the health and social services departments, the Mental Health Association in Putnam, and the Suicide Prevention Task Force are joining with the Hudson Valley chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to fight stigma and reduce suicides, while raising awareness about just how common mental health issues are today.

“Our residents’ health, both mental and physical, are a top priority,” says County Executive MaryEllen Odell. “We need to share and promote all the resources we have here in Putnam and fight the stigma that is sometimes associated with mental health issues. We know times may be difficult, that is why we have to continue to spread the word about available help.” The Putnam County Crisis Intervention hotline is 845-225-1222 and it operates 24/7.

The number of results from a national online depression screening—indicating moderate to severe levels of anxiety and depression—are nearly 400,000 higher this year when compared to 2019. This is true for the six-month period since the pandemic began in March, through August. So reports Mental Health America, the nation’s leading nonprofit promoting mental health for all, which has a variety of mental health screenings free of charge on their website at www.mhanational.org.  In Putnam County, calls to the Crisis Intervention Hotline have doubled since COVID began.

Executive Director Megan Castellano of Putnam’s Mental Health Association (MHA) and Coordinator Marla Behler of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of Putnam County, together chair the Suicide Prevention Task Force. They urge everyone to reach out to support family and friends as much as possible, while also paying attention to self-care. This means becoming familiar with not only the resources available in the county but also the potential warning signs that may indicate someone is experiencing mental distress or having thoughts of suicide.

“We have passed the six-month point in this pandemic. Many people have been hanging on because they thought the end was in sight. What started out as a sprint, however, has turned into a marathon,” says Ms. Castellano, “with food shortages and finances as serious continuing concerns. These stressors weigh heavy on everyone. It is important for people to understand that any feelings of anxiety and depression are completely normal in this situation.”

Ms. Behler agrees, saying that “Family stress is at a high point right now. Some have been home alone with the same group of people for these many months. Even in the best situations this can be difficult. Additionally, now that school has started and re-openings are occurring in different formats, many children are back officially learning from home at least part of the time. So parents are trying to navigate this as well. For those children who are in the schools, there is undeniably a different environment, as teachers deal with added responsibilities and challenges.”

Other residents have nearly the opposite reality, being home alone experiencing isolation and lack of social connectedness. The question is what people can do about all these feelings.

“The answer is first to acknowledge and validate them,” says Ms. Castellano. “Then encourage people to reach out and connect with personal and County support systems. In addition to our County’s crisis hotline, at the Mental Health Association we have recovery coaches that can be a support team member for those who can use extra support. The recovery coaches are not crisis workers. They are trained, objective listeners who have knowledge of community-based resources and supports, many of whom know what it’s like to struggle with anxiety and depression offering a unique and specialized lens. The phone number is 845-278-7600 to reach a recovery coach or for a referral.”

Commissioner of Health Michael J. Nesheiwat, MD, and the Commissioner of Social Services and Mental Health Michael Piazza, also emphasize that help is available. “Many agencies providing mental health and/or substance abuse treatment services have moved online to provide telehealth since COVID-19 emerged last spring,” says Dr. Nesheiwat. “The take-away message is clear: you are not alone.” Promoting mental health has been officially identified as one of Putnam’s top health improvement priorities through the department’s work with community partners during the last two “CHIP” cycles, beginning in 2013. The CHIP, short for Community Health Improvement Plan, is mandated by the NYS Department of Health.

Commissioner Piazza describes other valuable County resources, including FIRST LINE, a “warm line” for law enforcement and emergency personnel. “This is 24/7 peer-to-peer phone support for police officers, firefighters, emergency services providers, corrections officers and dispatchers, as well as their families,” he explains. “We also have a separate Vet2Vet ‘warm line’ for Veterans and their families.” Both lines offer free, confidential, 24/7 peer-to-peer support. The number for FIRST LINE is 845-745-0088; the support number for all Veterans, regardless of discharge status, is 914-519-8097.

Other resources are available from the New York State Department of Mental Health and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The NYS COVID-19 Emotional Support Helpline, staffed by specially trained volunteers 7 days a week,

8 a.m. to 10 p.m., can be reached at 844-863-9314. More information, available in 11 languages, is available at www.nyprojecthope.org/. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of over 170 local crisis centers, provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7 and best practices for professionals. The number 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Options exist for individuals who speak Spanish, are deaf and hard of hearing, or those who prefer a “chat” format. More information is available at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

In addition to learning about and using available County resources, residents are encouraged to support the Out-of-the-Darkness Walk on October 18 in whatever way they feel comfortable. Residents can raise awareness about mental health, fundraise online and/or participate in the in-person walk while practicing public health measures of masking and distancing. All organizing staff and volunteers will be wearing masks and gloves, and hand sanitizer will be provided along with masks for those who have forgotten their own. More information is available under “Events” at www.afsp.org/chapter/hudson-valley-westchester.

More information about the Mental Health Association and their multiple continuing services for youth and others is available online at www.mhaputnam.org. More information about the CAC of Putnam County is available at www.putnamcac.org.

The mission of the Putnam County Department of Health, nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), is to improve and protect the health of the Putnam County community, composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services provided directly and through collaboration include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, emergency preparedness, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit our County website at www.putnamcountyny.com; or visit our social media sites on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @PutnamHealthNY.

Putnam County Mental Health Telephone Resources

  • Putnam County Crisis Intervention hotline: 845-225-1222 (24/7)
  • FIRST LINE (law enforcement and emergency services): 845-745-0088 (24/7)
  • PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Vet2Vet Veterans Warm Line: 914-519-8097 (24/7)
  • NYS COVID-19 Emotional Support Helpline: 844-863-9314 (8am to 10pm/7 days)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) (24/7)
  • Mental Health Association of Putnam: 845-278-7600

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