May has had the special designation of being Mental Health Awareness Month, and although public service campaigns and messages remind people about the importance of heeding one’s own and others’ mental health needs, it’s far from a 30-day requirement, Lynda Battaglia says.
“The county Legislature gave a proclamation for mental health awareness month, but really, it is a specific month to recognize individuals with lived experience who are peers who might be in recovery and to really bring light to the community that people need to be aware of what mental health is, from various perspectives,” said Battaglia, director of Genesee County Mental Health, during an interview with The Batavian.
“The county Legislature gave a proclamation for mental health awareness month, but really, it is a specific month to recognize individuals with lived experience who are peers who might be in recovery and to really bring light to the community that people need to be aware of what mental health is, from various perspectives,” said Battaglia, director of Genesee County Mental Health, during an interview with The Batavian. “Mental health affects every part of you, as a person. It affects your emotions, your mind, your body, your spirit. All of it is connected. So in a broad sense, everybody needs to practice and pay attention to what their mental health is, whether they're in a good mental health space or a not-so-good mental health space. And it is something that we should be made aware of all year long, not just in a 30-day span.
“It might affect you more during one season of the year than it does another. Maybe you get into a negative mental health space around a certain time of year, maybe focusing on holidays or an anniversary, the death of a loved one, the social climate that we're in,” she said. “But the social climate that we're in right now, with mass shootings being on the news all the time … that has the potential in and of itself to affect somebody's mental health. And it's not just adults that we're talking about; we’re talking about kids too, kids who are paying attention to the news, and they’re practicing active shooter drills, how to shelter in place, or how to hide, that has a potential to impact youth mental health, right?
"Because they are walking in every day saying, ‘I need to carry my phone with me because, if something happens, I want to be able to text somebody.’ My daughter said that to me a few weeks ago, and it cut my core. Because what young people have to go through today is so difficult.”
Sometimes people are in a profession — social work, therapy, first responders, doctors, nurses — that have the potential to weigh on somebody's mental health, also, she said.
“So I think what I love about this opportunity is bringing light that we have individuals who have a diagnosis,” she said. “And you know, AJ is going to talk on that, but then you have the different perspectives, and mental health is such a broad view that you can really spend a long time talking about, like, what is mental health? And how do you make yourself aware of it?”
From the practical side of this, how does one know if he or she is struggling with a mental health issue versus just having a bad day?
Rachel Mieney, clinical director of Genesee County Mental Health, said that one indicator is when someone becomes overwhelmed by various stressors in the world and begins to notice that “their thoughts or feelings are starting to impact their lives in some way.”
“Then it might be the time to reach out to a professional. And, you know, I think we're seeing less stigma now. And I would like for that to continue moving in that direction, where people are willing to come and get help. It's scary, but it's a very brave thing to do to say, you know, I'm struggling. I need help. And I think one of the big things is that trends that we're seeing in terms of what's walking into our clinic is a lot of trauma, a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression,” she said. “And my message would really be that there is hope. It might feel in the moment like, this is hopeless. Nothing's ever gonna get better. But there's people like AJ with lived experience that says it is possible.
“And from the clinical perspective with working on therapy, goals and interventions that we can use, I've seen clients get better too,” she said. “And that's one of the best parts of my job is seeing someone recover and heal and get through whatever they're working on. And most of our therapists here are trained in trauma work. So that's something really great that we can offer.”
Only soldiers have PTSD, right?
People sometimes think that they haven’t experienced trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder because they haven’t served in the military, fought in a war, been in some major combat situation. But trauma is the worst thing that has ever happened to you. It could be a fight, a car accident, divorce, domestic violence, some form of abuse or witnessing a tragic event.
“When we assess for trauma, we just ask for the worst things that have ever happened, so for some people, it could be the loss of a loved one, it could be a car accident, it could be an injury, and then it could be something more significant, you know, like abuse history. So trauma is really anything that's impacting your ability to function on a daily basis, something that triggers you,” Mierney said.
If everybody looked back into their past and thought about some of the things that happened to them, and it's affecting them now, it's cumulative trauma, Battaglia said.
Perhaps a person’s parents had an ugly divorce when she was a child, and the home was unstable, or there was drug use in the home, or not enough food to eat, domestic violence, and/or sexual assault.
“People with trauma, some of the folks that we see, with severe trauma histories really have a cumulative set of trauma. Now, that's not to say that like Rachel said, somebody that has a really bad car accident, that can also be very traumatizing, that might be the one thing in their life. And every time they get back on the road, somebody hits the brake or stops or a deer runs out, it's going to trigger them, right?” Battaglia said. “And they're going to kind of relive that trauma all over again. So, like Rachel said, it really starts to impact a person's ability. And for some, they’re just recognizing it now that that's what it is.”
So what do you advise someone who is depressed but feels stuck and doesn’t know how to begin to get help? That seems to be a bit of a catch-22.
“It is, and it’s just kind of reminding them that it feels really bad right now, but it doesn't always have to be this way. And we'll set small goals so that it doesn't feel like, okay, well, you're gonna do these 10 things, and you're going to feel better. It's like, Okay, we'll do one little thing, like, maybe you'll get out of the house one day, for an entire week, or maybe you'll spend 10 minutes talking on the phone to support. So we set the goals really small so that they can feel like, okay, I accomplished that,” she said. “And then we start building on that. So we really try to just not overwhelm and just kind of meet them where they're at and take it one step at a time. So we can do phone, and we can do video (appointments). So that's actually been a benefit of COVID. We really were able to open up the modality of services we can offer. And that's helped with that trend. Transportation barriers too.”
For more information about mental health services in Genesee County, call 585-344-1421 or go to Mental Health Services
For services at the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties, call 585-343-2611, or go to MHA
For more information from the Rochester-based National Alliance on Mental Illness, go HERE
In a mental health crisis, call or text 988 for resources.