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Respecting the Dignity of Others with Georgetown Ministry Center

By Gunther Stern, Executive Director Georgetown Ministry CenterDSC_9082

After 30 years, I will be passing the reins early next year to someone with new ideas and energy, but with a commitment to our current mission and goals.

Georgetown Ministry Center started in 1987 with just one social worker, and a mandate to provide service and shelter.

I was working in a soup kitchen in Silver Spring when I saw the position originally announced. In a previous life I had spent time with homeless people in Georgetown. I became fascinated by the mental illnesses and the lifestyle. I couldn’t resist applying. As it turned out, I ended up helping some of the people I had gotten to know years before in Georgetown.

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I have become acutely aware that while housing is important to the solution of homelessness, we need to fix our broken mental health system, too. This nation’s commitment to people with mental illness is absent, both because of misunderstanding the problem and a lack of will. We are allowing people with no insight, who are completely incapacitated by mental illness, to choose to live on the street. We need to change that and we are expanding our advocacy in this vein.

Currently, we are working with local leaders to create a dialogue about the need for more aggressive interventions for people who are homeless because of severe mental illness. There needs to be a better policy than allowing people with little or no insight and judgement to choose to live on the street in squalor.

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We have grown over the years into a year-round drop-in center, providing psychiatric and medical outreach, social and mental health services, case management, shelter and housing support, handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and laundry facilities. We have been working on plan with a foundation to use our space more effectively. We now have plans which will add some space but also better utilize the space we have. We are hoping to begin a capital campaign soon.

As the only homeless service provider in the immediate neighborhood, we serves one of the very neediest populations. Many are resistant to services and treatment, so we create a welcoming environment that fosters friendly relationships and, ultimately, trust.

Gunther Outreach Bench

I am inspired by Bill and Melinda Gates. After building a fortune at a very young age, they turned their lives and genius to helping others, full-time. That inspires me to constantly review our mission. I am always assessing our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). I think about the risks of any action, plan, or for that matter, inaction and lack of plan.

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Last year, we reached 1,000 homeless individuals, including 60-70 “regulars,” providing 5,391 showers and 9,879 sandwiches. An on-staff psychiatrist served 100, while a general practitioner provided care to 350. Moving from the streets to housing is profoundly challenging for this population, but a few achieve it each year and we support them at every step.

I consider Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for her outspoken advocacy for education for girls, a personal hero. Even after the devastating injury, she returned to speaking out. She would not be silenced. It reminds me to respect the dignity of our constituents, and never talk down to them.

We seek lasting solutions for homelessness, one person at a time. For more information about us, or to volunteer, email us at info@gmcgt.org or call us 202-388-8301.

Mental Health Month: A Look Inside Arlington Free Clinic

afcMay is Mental Health Awareness Month, and today we’re getting a glimpse into the important work of Arlington Free Clinic, and its Behavioral Health program. Arlington Free Clinic provides free high-quality medical care to low-income, uninsured Arlington County adults. In the following piece, AFC’s Behavioral Health Program Manager, Jyl Pomeroy RN, discusses some of the health struggles that immigrants face as a result of their experiences before, during, and after arriving in the United States, and how AFC’s Behavioral Health Program offers its support.

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One of AFC Behavioral Health Program’s volunteer psychiatrists, Dr. Lynne Gaby.

Many Arlington Free Clinic (AFC) patients are immigrants who have fled countries where poverty, war, and gang violence are part of everyday life. They’ve been the victims of trauma, rape, physical/emotional abuse, violence, or have witnessed the ravages of war on their family, friends or neighbors. Many of our women patients from Central or South America have had to endure leaving their young children behind in their home countries, as they came to the US in hopes of earning money to help their families survive back home.

Many of our patients arrive in the US, often after a difficult journey, in poor health. With limited access to social services previously in their home countries, they come to us with deeply embedded and multi-layered concerns. It can be hard for them to imagine that addressing trauma and learning strategies to manage long-term stress is an important part of achieving overall good health.

The Behavioral Health program at AFC provides linguistically and culturally competent supportive care for patients who are suffering from the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD and other conditions that interfere with their ability to care for themselves/their families, hold a job, or contribute to their community. Six volunteer psychiatrists and seven volunteer counselors provide medication management and supportive psychotherapy to patients in personal or family crisis; to those who are experiencing the lingering effects of trauma; to those who have never before told anyone about abuse suffered at the hands of someone who was supposed to protect them; and to those who have had their lives threatened, and as a result, continue to live in fear every day. Yoga, group support, exercise education and community resources supplement the care provided by AFC’s psychiatrists and counselors to help patients develop strategies to manage stress, cultivate wellbeing and prevent the development of lifelong health problems.

To learn more about Arlington Free Clinic — including their wish list, and how you can get involved as a volunteer — visit their page here. And don’t forget to connect with them on Facebook and Twitter!

May is Mental Health Month

mental healthEach year, more than 40 million Americans experience mental illness, and 50 percent of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life (with half of those people developing conditions by the age of 14)*.

Recognizing the early signs of mental health conditions and taking action — is a critical step toward effective treatment that can help people live life to the fullest. According to work by Mental Health America, “mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process.” Their “B4Stage4” program outlines the stages of mental health conditions, and impresses the importance of intervention before a person reaches stage 4.

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For more information about what you should know and what you can do at each stage, visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may.

For many, knowing where to turn for support and treatment is the most challenging step. The Catalogue for Philanthropy is proud to feature a number of local charities that focus solely on supporting the mental health of individuals in our community through counseling and outreach services:

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Aspire Counseling (Gaithersburg, MD)
Meets the mental health needs of Montgomery County residents.

 

ascensionsAscensions Community Services, Inc. (Washington, DC)
Provides families in Wards 7 and 8 with individualized mental health assistance.

 

 

wendtWendt Center for Loss and Healing (Washington, DC)
Offers counseling, support, and crisis response for those of all ages affected by trauma and loss. (Volunteer opportunities also available here).

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The Women’s Center
(Vienna, VA)
Makes mental health counseling accessible to all. (Volunteer opportunities also available here).

 

In addition to the organizations listed above, more than 40 health and wellness organizations listed in the Catalogue for Philanthropy also have mental health offerings as part of their programming.

We encourage you to learn more not only about these organizations, but also about the warning signs and symptoms of mental health problems. Through awareness and education we can remove the stigma of mental health problems, connect those in need with the right resources, and be a source of support in their treatment.

*Source: 2 Ronald C. Kessler et al., Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, 62 Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 593, 595 (2005).

Guest Post: Aspire Counseling

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and in that spirit, we welcome Aspire Counseling to the blog! Aspire Counseling is committed to meeting the mental health needs of all Montgomery County residents, regardless of income. Their programs reach out to patients at the most critical junctures in their lives: when they become parents, battle an illness, or face aging. In particular, their Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program offers in-home therapy to expecting and new mothers battling post partum depression. Read more about their program and how to get involved here:

When Mother’s Day is Not Happy

Sunday May 11th is Mother’s Day. If a mother, you may receive breakfast in bed, a homemade card, flowers or a text message from your college son with “Happy Mother’s Day!” And yes, mothering can be a “happy” experience. It can also be hard. Sleepless nights, tantrums, juggling schedules, laundry, negotiating, reminding, etc. are no fun and can make for, at times – an unhappy experience.

One in five women will experience an even darker side to motherhood: pre and/or postpartum depression (PPD). Low income women have triple the chance (45 – 55%) of developing PPD compared to women in middle and upper income families. Low income women are also most likely to be uninsured. Finding affordable mental health treatment is often impossible.

Aspire Counseling, a mental health non-profit organization based in Gaithersburg Maryland, runs Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, a community based program that provides free home based mental health therapy to low income, uninsured and under-insured pregnant women and new mothers with pre-natal and post -partum depression. Our bilingual therapists travel to the women’s homes — or wherever easiest for the mother (playground, community center). This way she does not need to find childcare, arrange transport, or leave the house which can be a completely daunting and overwhelming exercise if depressed.

Eighty five percent of the women we serve are foreign-born. Many come from countries where they would be considered “crazy” if depressed. Seventy percent have experienced physical or verbal trauma in their home country. The trauma is often horrific: repeated childhood sexual abuse, gang violence, physical abuse by parents or partners, and rape. These women have not bad choices. They have been dealt a difficult hand in life and want to rise above it — for themselves and their child.

For example, “Jane” was referred for help when she experienced symptoms of pain and paralysis after her baby’s birth and medical tests ruled out physical causes. Most of Jane’s family stayed in El Salvador when Jane came to the US. Her pregnancy was fraught with depression, bad thoughts, and remorse about having left her family behind. Jane’s feeling of paralysis spread. Her anxiety skyrocketed. Her marriage was at risk. After 13 therapy sessions, Jane’s pain and paralysis had almost entirely disappeared. She was able to use “positive self-talk” and relaxation techniques to decrease anxiety and increase her sense of control. Her marriage improved. Jane still grieves her separation from her family in Central America, but she has begun to go church, where she sees other mothers from El Salvador.

The program has been running for over twelve years and treats more than 100 low income uninsured women each year. Nancy Ebb, program founder, recalls the very first client, “She was so anxious she stayed awake all night holding her baby to make sure nothing bad happened. She, and the baby, were listless.” In 2013 the award winning program helped 111 women. One hundred of the 111 women were uninsured and would have had no source of mental health care were it not for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.

Home visitation means therapists can make a real difference. Ninety percent of the women we serve through the program get better and learn tools to combat depression in the future. When a mother’s depression lifts, babies “wake up,” come alive to their surroundings, and begin to thrive. Effectively diagnosing and treating postpartum depression restores the mother-infant bond, and avoids cognitive, emotional and behavioral problems that can arise in children of depressed mothers. Mothers who are available to their babies read their signals, keep them nourished, and teach them to laugh, explore, and trust the world around them.

If you know a family member, friend, or neighbor with a new baby this Mother’s Day, take the opportunity to bring them a cooked meal, offer to run errands, or just let them know it is okay to feel tired, overwhelmed and unsure. If they need more help, are unable to sleep when the baby sleeps, continually crying and are listless, call Aspire Counseling Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program manager, America Caballero on (301) 978 9750.

For more information on Aspire Counseling’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program and other services, visit them online at: www.ccascounseling.org or check out their Catalogue page to get involved!

Taking Care

From “Commentary: Mental Health Of DC Youth Needs To Be Priority” by Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Children’s Law Center, on WAMU 88.5:

Health care can be the difference between life and death. I’m not talking about a surgeon performing quadruple bypass. I mean mental health services such as therapy, counseling, and medication. [...]

The human and financial cost of not treating mental health disorders is staggering. Nationally, 67 percent of young people in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Last year, 66 percent of children entering foster care in the District were found to have mental health needs. And last year, more than 200 children were sent to residential programs as far away as Texas because DC couldn’t provide intensive in-home support.

Citing the example of an 11-year-old boy who was treated physically, but never mentally, following a drive-by shooting, Sandalow points out that “literally thousands of the District’s children never get needed mental health services” — and mental wounds, like physical wounds, cannot heal if not promptly detected and treated. Moreover, these same wounds have long-term effects, and costs, for both the individuals and communities; thus spending on preventative medicine is, in essence, an investment for the future.

Often, mental health needs are not instantly apparent — like a broken bone or cold. Realizing, understanding, and ultimately responding to these needs require a high level of engagement that is not present in every child’s life. So how can we ensure both proper care and the engagement that leads to it?

In The News … (cont.)

Tackling Alzheimer’s Disease (WAMU: The Diane Rehm Show): “We all understand that Alzheimer’s disease is a major challenge for the country and for patients and their families, and, until now, we have not had a unified national effort to address this challenge. So a year ago, the president signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act into law, and through his commitment, this law requires our Department of Health and Human Services to establish the first-ever national Alzheimer’s plan,” said Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services. The IONA Senior Services (a Catalogue nonprofit) Director of Consultation, Care Management, and Counseling Deborah Rubenstein was a guest on the show, which you can listen to right here.
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DC’s Mental Health

Did you catch Stephen Baron, director of the District’s Department of Mental Health, yesterday morning on the Kojo Nnamdi Show?

JIM ASENDIO: DC’s Mental Health Department has spent 37 years under the cloud of a major lawsuit, resulted from a study that determined more than half of the 3,000 patients being treated at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, the District-run facility for the mentally ill in Southeast, did not belong there. That lawsuit is close to being settled now that Saint Elizabeths had been transformed into a much smaller institution, serving approximately 280 patients. At its height, Saint Elizabeths served more than 3,600 patients. Well, the city now treats approximately 98 percent of the District’s patients in community-based health clinics.

STEPHEN BARON: State hospitals probably our most restricted form of treatment. There’s been a tremendous increase in both the medications, the commitment and our ability to provide the wide range of services individuals need in the community. There are services that are offered now routinely in public mental health systems that were not available back then and came out because of the commitment to move people responsibly into the community.

[...] The agreement that established the department addressed a number of things. One was the need to build a robust community-based system, have a robust psychiatric emergency response system, have a new and improved Saint Elizabeths Hospital, to have inpatient care take place in community hospitals, not in the state hospital, all things we’ve been able to do.

Do you concur with the agreement regarding the most critical needs for the Department now that Saint Elizabeth’s has been both improved and down-sized? And have you experienced this increase in DC’s “commitment and our ability to provide the wide range of services individuals need in the community?” And how can a public community-based model best be implemented in urban areas versus more suburban or rural areas?

On the private side, Catalogue has featured 34 non-profits focused on health, mental health, and aging — often dedicated to keeping individuals in their neighborhoods and homes. Every year, the Women’s Center in Vienna offers individual and family psychotherapy and support groups to 2,600 clients for whom such counseling would otherwise be out of reach. And in Gaithersburg, Child Center and Adult Services, Inc. offers mental health care for low-income children and adults at three clinics, which also provide bilingual therapists.

For residential services, L’Arche Greater Washington operates four homes for low-income residents who have intellectual disabilities, often accompanied by physical disabilities and mental health issues. And speaking to another critical need, CrisisLink handles more than 53,000 calls per year from people contemplating suicide and confronting traumatic loss.