Dealing with Loss

For my series, I’ll be talking about my own personal stories, as well as any stories people are willing to share with us. I wanted to start off with a very touching, but very sad story. I have a friend who I’ve known since middle school. My friend had her sister die by suicide last year. It was a very rough time for my friend and her family, and they are all still trying to cope with it. She went through a very rough stage. There were days that her friends and family was worried about her own safety. One day, she took off all her pictures and information on her social media sites, and turned all her profile pictures to a black screen. She posted a very emotional poem about her sister and her emotions concerning her sister’s death.

She then disappeared. She wasn’t responding to any calls or text messages. She basically fell off the face of the earth. People were going to all of her usual hang outs and were setting up different areas to look for her. It was scary for everyone involved because no one knew for sure what was going on. She was gone for most of the day. Thankfully she eventually drove to her father’s house. She told him that she was not okay, and that she needed help. She has been going to therapy ever since. She has been doing things she enjoys more often now though. She is really into drawing and painting. She has even submitted some of her work into art galleries.

bighero6

At the beginning of the year, there are all the award shows. This year’s Oscar winner for Best Animated Film was Big Hero 6. If you haven’t seen Big Hero 6, you should! It is about a kid, Hiro, who meets Baymax. Baymax is an oversized robot that was made by Hiro’s older brother to help people. Hiro becomes friends with all his brother’s friends that he worked with at his school. It’s a very emotional movie; it will make you laugh and it’ll make you cry.

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The reason I mention this movie is because my friend dedicated this movie to her sister after it won the Best Animated Film Award. Spoiler Alert!!! My friend felt like she was able to relate to the character of Hiro because Hiro’s brother dies in the movie. She understood what Hiro was going through in the movie. She knew what it felt like to lose a sibling to something that was out of their control. She was able to connect to Hiro as a character in ways I cannot. I think she would have liked a Baymax in her life too; to have someone there to help her get through a day, a week, a month. Like Hiro, my friend is continuing living her life as best she could. She still thinks about her sister, but understands that she needs to keep living her life in the best way she can. It is important to understand that you can keep living in the best way you can…

Photo credits can be found here and here


Alyssa Arnpriester is an intern at Mental Health First Aid Colorado. To hear more from Alyssa, check out her previous post here or enter your email into the Follow box at the right to stay up to date with the Be a Lifeline blog.

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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

Advocating for Wellness: Understanding the Connection Between Sexual Assault and Mental Health

As you’re stepping into your Friday morning, please take a few minutes to read this incredibly powerful, important and insightful post by Megan Staudenraus, one of our very own Youth Mental Health First Aid Liaisons.


Every 107 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in this country (U.S. Department of Justice, 2013). One in five women will be the victim of a committed or attempted sexually assault in her lifetime. One in five men will experience some form of sexual assault other than rape in his lifetime. (Center for Disease Control, 2010). Given the connection between mental health and sexual assault, these figures translate to an enormous impact on our society’s wellness.

Individuals with a severe mental health diagnosis are at a greater risk for being victims of sexual assault. One study found that 40% of women with a severe-impact mental health diagnosis had experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault (Psychological Medicine, 2014). Furthermore, sexual assault is a risk factor for developing several mental health diagnoses. Survivors face a 50% or greater chance of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Population Reports: Ending Violence Against Women, 2000). PTSD can coincide with very disturbing symptoms, like dissociation, intense flashbacks to the incident, uncontrolled physiological responses, nightmares, sleep loss and increased anxiety. There is strong comorbidity between Substance Abuse disorder and sexual assault related-PTSD. Victims of rape are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse other illicit substances (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2013). Survivors are also at an increased risk for depression, suicidality, self-harm and other risk-taking behaviors.

The role of meaningful, survivor-focused support cannot be overstated. Perceived positive regard and early social support is integral to survivor recovery and wellness. Whereas victim-blaming, stigma-reinforcing attitudes, and the perpetuation of rape myths have a negative impact on a survivor’s wellness and their development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sexual assault is layered with many psychological and sociological complexities however, and often misunderstood or misrepresented in our culture and in the media. Let’s tackle some of those common misconceptions.

Myth: Sexual assault looks the same; is straightforward; easy to recognize.

Fact: Though often portrayed as violent attacks by strangers in dark alleys, sexual assault can and most often does look much different than that. Acquaintances, friends, partners, and family members commit rape. A weapon or physical struggle is not always involved. Survivors can experience sexual arousal or orgasm during an attack. Survivor use of alcohol or drugs can alter memory of the incident. Consent is not constant or finite, individuals have the right to withdraw their consent at any time during a sexual experience. Furthermore, sexual assault does not always involve penetration. The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This definition is intentionally inclusive of a range of experiences, and is fundamentally based on a lack of consent rather than the sexual experience itself. Framing our common language around assault as such, allows survivors to better identify and understand their experience.

Myth: Sexual assault is about sex.

Fact: Sexual assault is not sex, it is violence. It is not about sex, it is about power, aggression, and control. Perpetrators do not “lack sexual control”. This misconception reinforces victim-blaming attitudes, which wrongly fault the survivor for taking risks or tempting the perpetrator (by being intoxicated and/or flirtatious, agreeing to go out on a date, dressing a certain way, etc.). The vast majority of assailants also do not have a mental health disorder. Individuals with a mental diagnosis are in fact more likely to be the victim of an attack than the perpetrator.

Myth: I don’t know anyone who has been sexually assaulted.

Fact: Sexual assault occurs across classes, age groups, religions, ethnicities, sexes, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, and geographical locations. Statistically speaking, you likely know or have interacted with a survivor. An alarming estimated 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of assault by the age of 18.

Myth: I should convince survivors to report the incident immediately.

Fact: Some survivors indicate that reporting the crime helped them regain a sense of control and justice, and that it was crucial to their healing process. However, reporting the crime and/or completing a rape kit examination can be incredibly re-traumatizing. Many survivors choose not to report. In a support role, that can be incredibly difficult and frustrating to understand. Survivors choose to not report for various reasons though. They may not recognize the instance as rape, may be in a relationship with their assailant, may be unsupported by friends or family, face stigma, negative ramifications or exclusion from their community, or they may fear their assailant knowing their identity. Rather than convincing survivors to do what we think is right, our role is to offer support, and honor their decisions to regain a sense of safety, justice, and wellness.

Survivors have the right to make their own decisions, take their time, change their mind, seek and receive accurate information and meaningful support, to ask questions, and most importantly the right to heal. We can act as advocates for those rights and needs throughout the reporting, examination and/or healing process. Rape Crisis Advocates are also an excellent resource available to help survivors navigate through the healing process. These trained advocates can provide support immediately following an assault, offering important information as the individual decides how to proceed, and advocating for their needs throughout the examination and/or reporting process. Rape Crisis Advocates are also trained to support individuals coping with trauma that occurred in the past.

As with most other mental health-related concerns, recovery and wellness after an assault is possible and likely. Survivors may find professional support to be incredibly helpful, in addition to positive regard and unconditional social support. Trauma-informed interventions are treatments designed specifically to address survivor concerns. These treatments honor a survivor’s need to be informed about, in control of, and hopeful towards their recovery. The potential for comorbid mental health challenges like substance abuse or eating disorders is directly acknowledged. Generally, trauma-informed care also utilizes a collaborative support approach between friends, family and the survivor. Ultimately, the survivor has the right to decide what treatment is right for them.

There are a variety of other options and resources available to survivors. For more information about statistics, treatment options, or for support, please call The National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN) at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected with local resources in your area, or visit www.rainn.org.

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!