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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Mental Health and Addiction: Starting the Conversation

As you dive into your Monday afternoon, we hope you’ll take a few minutes to engage with Britta Johnson, our Implementation Specialist, on the important topic of mental health and addiction.


As I sit in my office looking out at the beautiful green and bright colors of our emerging Colorado spring, I contemplate how to start this conversation. Typing and then deleting my starting sentence over and over I was left with a blank page and a blinking cursor.

So what is it about substance use that makes it difficult to start the conversation.  Could it be the culture of anonymity that has taught us not to speak up about it?  Is it the countless television shows and mass media coverage of celebrity rehab scandals that marginalizes this serious health condition?  Or perhaps its years of being silent that has stigmatized individuals to remain silent on the issue.

Understandably, some people in recovery are reluctant to go public.  But when someone does put a face and voice on recovery with his or her personal story, the general public and policymakers can finally access the powerful message of hope that has resonated for years in underground communities of recovery.

A recent documentary, The Anonymous People, was released that addresses this very topic.  The film features the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Deeply entrenched social stigma and discrimination have kept recovery voices silent and faces hidden for decades. The vacuum created by this silence has been filled by sensational mass media depictions of people in active addiction that continue to perpetuate a lurid public fascination with the dysfunctional side of what is a preventable and treatable health condition. Just like women with breast cancer, or people with HIV/AIDS, courageous addiction recovery advocates are starting to come out of the shadows to tell their true stories. The moving story of The Anonymous People is told through the faces and voices of the leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, and celebrities who are laying it all on the line to save the lives of others just like them. This passionate new public recovery movement is fueling a changing conversation that aims to transform public opinion, and finally shift problematic policy toward lasting recovery solutions.

The good news is that through open conversations regarding mental health and substance use, we are starting to see a shift in focus on how we approach these.  Integrated care models are becoming more prevalent to allow for the joined treatment of physical and mental illnesses at the same time.  Politicians are supporting increased government spending on strategic initiatives that directly focus on mental health and substance use.

By opening up and allowing ourselves and others to start the conversation, we are able to make positive progressive change and impact lives around us.

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.

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!