Tahlequah Daily Press

May 24, 2013

Awareness of self, others key to mental health

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Promoting good mental wellness has been a practice since the mid-19th century.

The American psychiatrist Isaac Ray, one of the 13 founders of the American Psychiatric Association, said mental hygiene is an art to protect the mind against incidents and influences that could inhibit or destroy its energy, quality or development.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, good mental health, or wellness, is characterized by a person’s ability to learn, to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions; to form and maintain good relationships with others; and to cope with and manage change and uncertainty.

May is National Mental Health Month, and the core message being shared by many mental health advocates is that wellness is essential to living a full and productive life. Wellness isn’t simply the absence of disease, or disorder. It is the overall well-being that can be linked to the balance among a person’s emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health, according to Mental Health America.

Every individual experiences stress presented by daily activities at school, work or other situations, and it is important to recognize someone in need of support. Common signs in children or adults include a noticeable change in daily activity, said Calming Connections Clinical Director Dr. Laurna Champ.

“Common signs that there may be something going on mental health-wise or behavior health-wise is significant or sudden changes in behaviors – from sudden changes in a child’s or an adult’s actions or reactions or interaction styles. For example, if the child or the adult is generally involved in everyday activities and suddenly withdraws or significantly decreases that, it’s something to be aware of,” she said. “Or, if they’re moving along in life pretty smoothly and all of a sudden they start being gone every evening or not coming home at the same general time they did. Or significant change in activities at school, grade changes. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, but it means you might want to look at what’s going on here.”

Other changes could be significant changes in eating or sleeping habits, Champ said.

“With children particularly, we get growth patterns going on. Sometimes children eat a lot more right before they start growing or a lot less. And the same with sleep,” she said. “If it’s the week school’s out or the week before Christmas, they might sleep less. But if it’s a regular, typical time of the year and we see the child, or an adult, sleeping a lot more or a lot less, that could be something to look at.”

Steps recommended by MHA to build and maintain well-being include a balanced diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, a sense of self-worth, development of coping skills that promote resiliency, emotional awareness and connections to family, friends and the community. Making regular visits to a medical or mental health professional is also suggested.

When a person knows he or she may have a problem, it is important to talk to a  trusted person, said Champ.

“Find somebody in the community you trust, whether it’s with the church or someone you work with, and certainly in Tahlequah there are many mental health, behavioral health agencies if you have insurance,” she said. “You would want to call your insurance and find out what agencies cover your insurance. If it’s a child and you have SoonerCare, you would want to make sure the agency takes SoonerCare. You may just want to go to talk your pastor or youth director. Or if it’s during the school year, children can go talk to their teachers or their school counselors.”

Solutions Behavioral Health, at Tahlequah City Hospital, is a 10-bed inpatient behavioral health unit for people over 60 years old, said SBH Program Director Christy Hern.

“We provide inpatient care for individuals who require mental or emotional treatment in a setting that can also address medical needs. Each patient participates in an individualized course of treatment, combining group therapies, individual counseling, therapeutic activities, family support and family education,” she said. “Our goal is to rehabilitate the whole person and return him or her to a more useful, productive and positive life.”

Hern said challenges patients may be facing include loss of a lifetime companion, loss of family and friends, declining physical and mental health, loss of independence, financial constraints, changes in self-image, unrealized expectations about the golden years, and changes in their professional, personal and financial life due to retirement.

To help reduce suicide and accidental gun-related injuries or death, Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health is providing gun locks through a grant provided by the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Suicide Prevention Program. Lee was a senator’s son who committed suicide, and Congress set aside funds for suicide prevention efforts, said CNBH Prevention Program Supervisor Melissa Pitts Johnson. The grant program is its second year.

“One of the things research shows us is that in states where there is a high percentage of gun ownership, we typically have higher rates of completion for suicide,” she said. “One of the ways that we can combat that is through what’s called means restriction. Just locking up your gun can be a deterrent, and it’s basic violence prevention. It’s just good safety and gun ownership [practice].”

Johnson said 5,000 Master Lock units, which come equipped with sticker-labeled locks presenting a toll-free suicide prevention hotline, have been purchased through the grant. About 1,500 to 2,000 units have been distributed so far, and scheduling of times and dates at clinics in the 14-county area is under way to distribute the remaining locks.

“The state has been passing them out in a concentrated area, mainly around Oklahoma City, for several years now, and they’ve have been able to track, anecdotally, that it has decreased incidents of suicide,” said Johnson. “ And they’re working with the life line to track how many people are calling that life line because they read that number on the lock. Creek Nation has a grant, too, as does the Kiowa Nation. So we’re all kind of working together to strategically spread out our money for suicide prevention across Oklahoma and trying to work together so  the messaging is consistent. So all over Oklahoma we’re doing similar things, and we’re engaging in the same kind of activities so that nobody is missed.”