You rock. We know. Let’s talk.

Alright, it’s time for some real talk. Well actually, since it’s the middle of the week, maybe it’s time for a really cute picture of a koala first.

koala

Phew, okay, now it’s time for real talk. It’s hard to believe, but the Be a Lifeline blog is now in its fourth month of posting. We are so grateful to be able to share this important conversation space with you, our incredible readers and contributors. Through those four months, we’ve had remarkable guest bloggers, thoughtful staff posts, and engaging events, and we’re so lucky that you’re along for the ride.

Here’s where we’re at now – we need YOU. That’s right, we’re talking to you. No, not your coworker in the next cubicle or your neighbor down the street (although we’d love to talk to them too). You. Why, you might ask? Because we know you have something incredible to share about mental health. Maybe you’ve gleaned important knowledge from your professional life that others would benefit from learning too. Maybe you have lived experience with a mental illness or a mental health challenge and could help us understand that from your perspective. Maybe there’s something awesome going on in your community for mental health and wellness.

Whatever it might be, your voice is crucial to help move us forward in the continual pursuit of increasing education and understanding about mental health and decreasing the stigma and negative perceptions that hold all of us back.

So, here’s our charge: will you be a guest blogger? We can start small with just one post, and then you can decide if you want to keep writing. As long as it relates back to the overall purpose and goals of this conversation space, the sky is the limit on what you can talk about. You can even post anonymously if you’d rather not have your name floating out in cyberspace. If you’re not quite ready to share your story yet, we totally respect that. Just know that if and when you are, we’ll be right here, ready to listen (and read). If you are ready, head on over to the Share a Story tab to start creating your masterpiece now. We’re so excited to hear from you!

And finally, if you’re thinking, “Geez, I would really love to know more about ______________,” or “Wow, I would love to hear about someone else’s experience with ______________,” we want to know! We’ll do our best to find someone with that kind of expertise or experience to share with you. Send us your question or topic idea at the bottom of this page, and we’ll get back to you soon.

Okay, okay – one more koala just for good measure. Happy Wednesday!

koala2

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The Colorado Way – A Celebration of George DelGrosso

This Monday at the Be a Lifeline blog is a particularly special one. Why, you may ask? Because today we are honored to feature a story about George DelGrosso, our fearless leader, and to celebrate the remarkable work he does in the behavioral health community of Colorado. Please read below for an incredible post and interview from our very own Rikke Siersbaek!

Tomorrow, Tuesday April 21st, George DelGrosso, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC) and pioneering leader for Mental Health First Aid, will receive the Visionary Leadership Award at the 2015 Annual Conference of the National Council for Behavioral Health. George has dedicated more than 30 years to the mental health field, including the past 15 years at the helm of CBHC, the statewide association representing Colorado’s community mental health system and organizational home for Mental Health First Aid Colorado. Indeed, we have George’s visionary leadership to thank for the prolific growth of Mental Health First Aid in our state, establishing Colorado as a national leader for the program! To celebrate him and his many successes, I recently sat down with George to learn more about his life, his work and what I have come to call the “Colorado Way” in behavioral health.

About the Man

George grew up in rural Colorado and, true to his roots, has always been a hard worker. Whether harvesting sugar beets as a teenager, pouring concrete, or working in the restaurant industry (where he worked his way up to management – a leader even in his early years!), George has done a lot. As a young man, George also served in the United States Air Force and spent formative years stationed in South Korea. But eventually his passion for helping others led him to the field of behavioral health. Beginning his career as a therapist, he moved into program development and finally onto the path to leadership. George served as the Executive Director of the Mental Health Center in Cody, WY before moving to Colorado’s San Luis Valley to take on the Director role there.  Recognizing his impressive acumen, George’s peers at Community Mental Health Centers statewide went on to select him as the CEO of their association, the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council.

A Remarkable Career

Through a career mostly spent in rural settings, George learned the importance of relying on other people and other organizations. As he told me, “the behavioral health field in Colorado is highly collaborative and brings people together where they feel safe in trusting each other and doing business together. Our approach is built on the understanding that we are powerful when working together.” Under George’s leadership, the CBHC membership has grown united in their common interest to improve the lives of Coloradans. They have created a unique “Colorado Way” in their commitment to working on behalf of each other with trust.

Impressive Results

The power of this approach has led to many wonderful accomplishments for the field as a whole in our state. George has led collaborative efforts, in Colorado and nationally, to promote the integration of physical and behavioral health; helped pass countless laws to improve access and funding for mental health and substance use disorders; and championed dedicated funding from the State of Colorado for the expansion of Mental Health First Aid. George’s approach was also absolutely instrumental in making MHFA such a success in our state. In fact, when CBHC first brought Mental Health First Aid to Colorado in 2008, the trust and collaborative spirit among CBHC’s membership allowed us to create the first statewide model for growing MHFA in the nation. This model came to be known as Mental Health First Aid Colorado, with CBHC serving as the central coordination point for its members and partners that have invested heavily in the program and made it their own.

Passion for Mental Health First Aid

Here on the blog, different MHFACO staff members have written about our own passion for MHFA. George is also passionate about the program and adds a valuable perspective to why it is so important. George told me that for years the behavioral health field has been very focused on caring for people who are already very sick. While helping these individuals is important, he had been looking for ways to improve prevention and give tools to family members and friends to help before problems become serious. And with MHFA he found that tool for everyday community members. George is a modest man who was clearly more comfortable talking with me about the amazing brain trust he works with at CBHC and talented individuals throughout the behavioral health community in Colorado than about his own accomplishments. He told me about wonderful mentors throughout his career and the opportunities he has been given to be creative and innovative. When I asked what he does to make CBHC such a great place to work, he said responded that, “No matter where you work and what your role is, you have to treat people how you want to be treated.” George is part of the team – not outside of it – and he emulates it in how he interacts with everyone – the “Colorado Way.” George is committed to the belief that together we know more and can do more than we ever could alone. That is truly visionary leadership.

So, from us at the Mental Health First Aid Colorado team – Congratulations, George! And thank you for your leadership, vision, guts and dedication in bringing MHFA to Colorado. We love working for this mission and we wouldn’t be here without you!

Meet the Team, Part 4: Brian!

Ready for the weekend? Looking for a little afternoon break? We’re with you. And don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Just sit back and relax as we introduce you to the final member of our team, Brian! He’s keeping the overall theme of his blog posts a secret for now, so be sure to add your email to the “Follow” box on the right so you never miss a post.

We have loved sharing our stories with you these past few weeks, but now we want to get to know YOUR story through guest blogging. Still not sure what you’ll write about? No problem, we’ll be patient. And in the meantime, head on over to the Style Guide tab to see what we mean by guest blogging. Spoiler alert: you won’t find “professional writer” anywhere in our list of requirements. (Although if you are a professional writer, we’d love to hear from you too!) For now, take that short afternoon break and learn a little bit about Brian Turner!

Brian_Turner

Name: Brian Turner

Role: Director

Hometown: Denver

Favorite color: Blue

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado? I started at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC) back in 2008. CBHC is a membership organization that represents the statewide network of community mental health providers and behavioral health managed care companies. I hadn’t been there long before some of our members started talking about this cool new program called Mental Health First Aid. I remember one Board of Directors meeting in particular where Dr. Carl Clark, CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver, was enthusiastically urging everyone to work together to help grow MHFA across the state. Folks were sold pretty quick and we decided to go all-in on.

George Delgrosso, CBHC’s Chief Executive Officer for the past 15 years, put his visionary mind – and me – to work. What started with him and I just throwing around ideas slowly turned into what we have today – an incredible team at CBHC running the MHFA Colorado initiative with the support of hundreds of partner organizations, 15,000+ certified MHFAiders, and so much more to come.

What is your favorite part about working here? The mission is a given. It’s what drives me every day. But knowing that I’m working with a team of people who share that drive is my favorite part.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies: I use ALGEE all the time, but I think the most underrated part of MHFA and YMHFA is the impact it has on us, as MHFAiders, to improve our own lives. I took the course thinking I would learn how to help my friends, family members, peers, etc. The truth is it has probably had a greater effect on my own health than anyone else I’ve connected with. In MHFA we are taught to listen to others non-judgmentally, but how often do we afford ourselves that same consideration? I’ve learned to use MHFA to cut myself some slack. To address how I’m feeling without judgment. To empower myself.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be? Laser eyes. I just like the visual.

Meet the Team, Part 3: Megan and Emily!

Staring out the window at that bright blue sky?  Nursing a bit of a sunburn? Must be Monday after a beautiful weekend in Colorado**. That means that it’s the best time here at Mental Health First Aid Colorado because we can introduce you to two more of our team! This week, we want you to meet Megan and Emily. Megan looks forward to engaging with you through her blog posts on trauma and mental health, and Emily can’t wait to talk with you about mental health and the arts. So go ahead, grab that second cup of coffee and take a break for a few minutes on us. Maybe as you read, you’ll even start thinking about what YOU might want to write about in a guest blog post.

**(If you’re not in Colorado, we’re sorry. It’s a pretty cool place, and you’re always welcome here – please visit soon! Until then, we’re sending good weather vibes your way.)

Megan_Staudenraus

Name: Megan Staudenraus

Role: Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaison

Hometown: Shelter Island, NY

Favorite color: Purple

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado? The Mental Health First Aid course and Colorado initiative was unlike anything I’d heard of. After learning more about the MHFA curriculum, the Colorado initiative’s goals, as well as the testimonials about its impact, I knew it was exactly the kind of direct service program that I was interested in getting involved in. The opportunity to initiate and lead conversations around mental health in the community really drew me in. As someone who often thinks in terms of “the big picture,” I saw MHFACO as a leader on the forefront of a broader sociocultural movement to change the way that we view, treat, and respond to mental illness and wanted to contribute to those efforts.

What is your favorite part about working here? The MHFACO team is so wonderful to work with. Everyone is incredibly dedicated to the issue of behavioral health, and so supportive of each other’s visions and goals. Teaching the classes and doing outreach presentations about the course has been exceedingly rewarding as well. Hearing feedback from participants that they feel better informed, more aware, and better able to help themselves or others with a mental health challenge, is such an incredible gift to be able to offer someone. Being an instructor in this program has also opened the door for others in my life to talk more openly about their or their loved ones mental health concerns. I’m truly honored to help start those difficult conversations, and to be able to better support those individuals.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies: A friend of mine recently was experiencing some serious medical complications. This person also had a history of mental illness, and the physical symptoms and disorders were eliciting and exacerbating their underlying anxiety and depression symptoms. Through listening, empathizing, and offering reassurance, I was able to help that individual calm down in a moment of panic and anxiety. We even talked through some self-help strategies to mitigate both the distressing physical and psychological symptoms they were experiencing, and also discussed the potential benefits of seeking professional help to better cope with the recent changes.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be?  Healing koala bear-hugs!

Emily_Haller

Name: Emily Haller

Role: Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaison

Hometown: Centennial, CO

Favorite color: Blue

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado? I took a Mental Health First Aid course as part of an internship during college and was amazed by its ability to start positive conversations about mental health in our communities. I very much wanted to be a part of an organization committed to strengthening those conversations, and saw MHFACO as such a place. I feel so lucky to be a part of this team and to teach Youth Mental Health First Aid, because I think these courses empower both adults and young people to “own” their personal mental health and to validate and accept themselves for exactly who they are.

What is your favorite part about working here? I’d say my favorite thing is witnessing the impact that MHFA and YMHFA courses have in Colorado. I love hearing from instructors, participants, and other organizations about how these courses encourage them to stand up for mental health and to make a difference in their own families, circles, and communities. I also love working with the MHFACO team, who are beyond dedicated to furthering this mission. Also, rumor has it that we observe National Pancake Day, so there’s that too.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies: On a few occasions, I’ve needed to “Ask the Question” of whether or not someone was thinking of killing themselves. From my training as a mental health first aider, I knew that I needed to ask, because it’s the only way to know for sure. The course gave me the confidence to know that I could say those words out loud and be ready for any response. More than anything, the YMHFA strategies have encouraged me to be a more compassionate, engaged listener and to be present in each conversation.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be? Flying, hands down. It would be SO cool.

Meet the Team, Part 2: Rikke and Mark!

That’s right, it’s already time for the second installment of getting to know the MHFACO staff. Rikke is really excited to get to know you through this blog, and looks forward to writing about stigma and normalizing mental illness, as well as how mental health intersects with faith, work family, and all other areas of life. Mark is a passionate former teacher who can’t wait to start connecting with you through his posts on behavioral health in schools. Don’t forget to add your email at the right and click “Follow” to get an email each time a new post goes up. Someday, it could be YOUR post if you connect with us by being a guest blogger. In the meantime, get to know Rikke and Mark!

Rikke_Siersbaek

Name: Rikke Siersbaek

Role: Program Associate

Hometown: Odense, Denmark

Favorite color: Green

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado? I joined MHFACO in 2012 because I love our mission and loved the idea of helping the organization grow. I also was attracted to the idea of working for a statewide network to build and strengthen strategic collaborations with partners in the field. I am very proud of what we have accomplished so far and look forward to where we will go next.

What is your favorite part about working here? I love connecting with our partners across the state and getting to hear about the great people who are teaching Mental Health First Aid all across Colorado. I am so impressed with the work that each of our wonderful instructors do and find it inspiring and motivating to be supporting their efforts.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies: I use MHFA strategies all the time in my personal and professional life. The course has given me an awareness of the prevalence of mental illness and the many different ways it impacts people. And it has grown both my empathy for other people as well as given me a set of tools to intervene when I see someone struggling. Often a few words to show you care is enough to start a conversation. Specifically, I have used the tools to refer people to professional help and have offered self-care suggestions many times.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be?: To be able to sense when someone needs a hug and fly there.

Mark_Lanning

Name: Mark Lanning

Role: School-Based Specialist

Hometown: Parker, CO

Favorite color: Yellow

What brought you to Mental Health First Aid Colorado?  After working as a teacher for several years, I found that even though I could have the best lesson plan in the world, it wasn’t effective if my student’s didn’t come to school prepared to learn. Although I tried to assist students with mental health diagnosis, I had no formal training. YMHFA allows me go give back to new teachers what I wished I would have had. As one who has a personal connection to mental health, MHFACO also has given me a chance to heal by contributing to the success of students.

What is your favorite part about working here? Beyond making a difference in my career? MHFACO has an excellent workplace culture and one of the best teams I have ever worked with. The staff is very supportive of each other’s projects and we even manage to laugh often.

Describe a time when you used MHFA or YMHFA strategies:  Recently, a friend of a friend was experiencing suicidal intensity. My friend was eager to help but had minimal training in mental health or crisis intervention. Although unconventional, I was able to assist her in using the YMHFA strategies via text message. Perhaps the most important but often overlooked step is to Give Reassurance and Information. I reminded my friend that she should thank her friend for opening up, reassure her that trained professionals are available to assist, and that it is normal to feel overwhelmed after a tragedy. Although she would have intervened anyway, MHFA assisted my friend in being a much more effective assister.

If you could assign a superpower to ALGEE the Koala, what would it be? I would make him have super stretch limbs. Who wouldn’t love to see Stretch Armstrong 2.0?

We’ve grown to a new home!

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After several coats of paint, a few trips to the hardware store, and some dedicated hours assembling furniture, Mental Health First Aid Colorado (MHFACO) has officially opened our doors at our new location in Lakewood, CO!

Why, you may ask, did we move? A good question. Over the last few months, we’ve had incredible growth here at MHFACO, expanding from a team of two to a team of SEVEN. Although it was a good team bonding experience to rotate and share desks, we’re excited to have a little bit more space to move around. Even more importantly, we’re excited that this move and team expansion will mean more opportunities to interact with YOU, our Mental Health First Aid Colorado community.

One way we want to do this is through our new blog, where you now find yourself! We hope to get to know you a little better and to provide an opportunity for you to get to know us too. Each MHFACO staff member will blog on a rotating basis, which we will post every Monday. Let’s be honest, we’re all looking for something to prolong the weekend a little bit, and what better way to do so than catching up with your favorite MHFACO staff members? We’re going to kick off our staff posts with a fun “Get to Know You” interview with each team member over the next three weeks. Be sure to click the “Follow” button on the right to make sure you never miss a new post.

That being said, our staff posts are only a small part of what we want this blog to be—that’s where you come in. We want to hear from YOU as a guest blogger.  Yes, we’re talking to you.  Not sure you feel entirely confident in your writing skills? No problem, we’re looking for best effort, not perfection. Not sure you have a story worth sharing? We respectfully disagree – the story you have is one that we want to hear. Not sure you have the time? Don’t worry, we won’t ask you to write a novel.

If you’re now sufficiently curious, take a peek at our “Style Guide” tab to see what we’re looking for in these guest blog posts. Then, when you’re ready, click the “Share a Story” tab to submit your post. Whether you’re a course participant, a mental health professional, a MHFA or YMHFA instructor or administrator, a caring community member, or somewhere in between all of these, we want to hear from you. Your voice is powerful in our continued mission to break down the stigma around mental health and substance use challenges.

In addition to these blog posts, we hope that you’ll feel comfortable to provide us with feedback on how we can better serve you.  Head on over to the “Ask Us” tab to send us feedback – we’ll do our best to reply in a very timely way. Also if there’s a topic you really want to know more about, let us know and we’ll work hard to find an expert in that area to write a blog post.

We’re so excited to kick off this blog, and we really look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to explore the rest of this website—it’s still Monday, after all. Don’t forget to click that “Follow” button on the right, and look out for our first “Get to Know You” post next Monday!