Changing The Culture Of Mental Health

Improving mental health in Lancaster County is the driving goal for Let's Talk, Lancaster, according to coordinator Nicole Hagen. Dozens of area organizations joined together to form the Let's Talk, Lancaster coalition nearly three years ago, and one of the coalition's recent initiatives has been joining the national Change Direction campaign. "The campaign goal is to change the culture of mental health in America," Hagen explained.

To do that, Change Direction seeks to raise awareness of the five signs of emotional suffering so individuals can more easily recognize the signs in themselves and others. "We like to relate it to first aid. Someone might know the signs of a heart attack, but we don't always know what to look for when it comes to mental health," Hagen relayed.

So what are the signs? Personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care, and hopelessness. Hagen is one of several Let's Talk representatives and volunteers who share the five signs and encourage individuals to take the pledge to know the signs and "to change the culture surrounding mental health, mental illness, and wellness," as stated at http://www.changedirection.org.

Let's Talk signed on as a regional partner with Change Direction in the fall of 2016, setting a goal of reaching 275,000 people by January 2019. To help make that happen, Let's Talk representatives and volunteers offer free, 30-minute presentations to any group or organization that is interested.

Part of each presentation includes audience interaction where folks can share examples of emotional distress and telltale signs that a friend may need help. "People love being able to contribute other signs," remarked Hagen. "People really like to engage with this, because it's something we all see but rarely talk about."

Individuals who are interested in scheduling a Change Direction presentation may visit http://www.letstalklancaster.org or call 717-544-3820. Free toolkits that walk individuals through how to implement the presentations at schools, workplaces, and faith-based or community organizations are available at http://www.changedirection.org.

Often the question that Hagen and other presenters receive is, "Now that we know the signs, what can we do?" As an answer to that question, Change Direction began incorporating the five healthy habits of emotional wellbeing into its literature: take care, check in, engage, relax, and know.

As another way to aid area residents who may notice some of the signs of emotional distress in themselves or others, Let's Talk has worked to update the 2-1-1 list of resources for Lancaster County and ensure that it is comprehensive. 2-1-1 is a free, confidential service supported by the United Way and available for people to call 24/7 for assistance in finding local resources to help meet their needs. "We have so many fantastic resources in Lancaster County, but not everybody knows about them or how to find them," Hagen shared.

Let's Talk has also attempted to bring mental health to the forefront of conversation with medical providers and patients. Thanks to a Let's Talk initiative, Hagen said that the PHQ-9 depression screening is now implemented by primary care physicians in Lancaster County as a tool to monitor mental health.

"Now, more than ever, people are willing to have the conversation on mental health, and if we're going to change the conversations, we've got to change the language," stated Hagen. "If we can become supportive of mental health, that will help to eliminate the stigma (that surrounds mental illness)."

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