Conversations about mental health in Hamden
By Sarah Russell and Amanda Perelli
For the last decade, Hamden residents have gathered to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention at the Out of Darkness Community Walk. On Oct. 7 participants met at Hamden Town Center Park and walked along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Hamden.
“[The event] also is a public memorial for people's grief and a place they can share with others their grief, which is hard to come by in the society,” event director Sean Heather McGraw said.
Over 600 people registered for the event and McGraw estimates about 450 people showed up.
The $53,394 raised will help programming in schools, churches and the community.
The money is also used to help support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and support survivors.
Vice President of the Student Veterans Organization (SVO) at Quinnipiac, Michael Strahl, walked with members of SVO. As a veteran, he said he walked to help fellow soldiers who struggle with mental illness.
“I think it’s incredible,” Strahl said. “It brings attention to one of the most important tragedies we face. Most importantly, it shows people that they are not alone in their fight against suicide or in their grief of a loved one or friend they have lost to suicide.”
Suicide is a sensitive topic, but should still be talked about, said Stahl. Events like the Out of the Darkness walk let people know they have support in their community.
“[The walk] makes me think about the people that made it through multiple tours and survived just to come home and take their own lives because of their struggles that we aren’t aware of,” Strahl said. “If we can prevent just one suicide a month or year, we were successful in our efforts.”
Other than this event, Strahl believes it’s important that everyone knows the signs of and feels comfortable discussing mental health with peers.
“Just talk about it more,” Strahl said. “Don’t be afraid to bring it up and learn the signs so you can be there for someone contemplating suicide. I think Quinnipiac University did an amazing job with Fresh Check Day. More of that. Students as well as the community need to know it is alright to speak about suicide.”
For resources, people can refer to 2-1-1, an online and phone service available for those in need, concerning issues of housing and shelter, utilities, employment, healthcare, mental health and addictions.
“We are a free, confidential, information referral service that services people across Connecticut– 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Annie Scully, a research analyst and community outreach coordinator at United Way in Connecticut.
The service has 54 contact specialists, who have six weeks of rigorous training to be able to handle crisis situations from callers. 2-1-1 is funded by the state.
When looking at the statistics of calls in Hamden, callers reached out 1,126 times for mental health and addiction problems between Oct. 1, 2017 and Oct. 1, 2018. This is the second highest amount of calls behind those for housing and shelter.
Of mental health and addiction calls, 680 were about requests for mental health services and 382 were for crisis intervention and suicide.
While the ‘under 18’ demographic is the smallest in the mental health services category, it is the largest in the crisis intervention and suicide, with 237 of the 382 calls coming from those in high school or younger.
“While under 18 callers might represent one of the smallest percentage of callers across the state it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the least amount of need,” Scully said.
Scully hopes that people in the younger age demographic will turn to their website for help, which has programs such as Mobile Crisis, which is a service that dispatches clinicians that are trained to deal with people under 18, who are dealing with emotional crisis at school, home or in the community.
“We hope that in 2018 there’s people under 18 that are much more likely to jump on a computer than they are to make a phone call, so we also monitor our web traffic,” Scully said. “So in [fiscal year] ‘18 we had almost two million visits to our website, www.211ct.org, which we’ve made some pretty big enhancements recently to make that as user friendly as possible and to replicate a phone call as much as possible so people can really find the help they need on our website.”
So, why is the number of calls for mental health services so low for this demographic? Scully says that if school-age people knew about their resources they might be able to receive better help when dealing with mental health. In the past they have tried different strategies, such as creating a page on their website geared towards youth and young adults in collaboration with a local youth group.
“I think that the more people who know that 2-1-1 is a resource and that more people that know the kind of help and referrals 2-1-1 can provide by either calling or visiting our website the more people that will use it,” Scully said. “So if there is a class or opportunity for us to talk about 2-1-1 or market 2-1-1 in school systems across Connecticut I think that would be a great way to get the word out.”
Incorporating mental health awareness in the public schools is something Scully thinks could benefit students. In New York, mental health classes have already been implemented, requiring public schools to educate students on the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. The new law mandates these courses in hopes to educate students about resources and better understand mental health as a whole.
Connecticut has not made public any plans of incorporating these mandatory courses into the public school system. HQ Press reached out to Jody Goeler, superintendent of Hamden public schools, but did not receive a response.