Spring is finally arriving and hopefully most of us are feeling the emotional boost that comes with the welcoming sounds of birds, the increase of light and the warmth of sun on our skin. Those who live with chronic mental health conditions can find every season a challenge and are often in need of additional supports to live their lives to the fullest.
Additional supports are needed more than ever during a time when some MaineCare services for people with mental illness are being threatened. Many people receiving mental health case management services were recently told MaineCare would no longer pay for their services, which have been critical in keeping them on track with their health care goals.
Given these cuts, it is exciting to see new opportunities for ongoing support in our community. Two of these are support groups, which can serve many purposes and are free and accessible to all. Support groups can help participants feel less isolated and alone. In addition, being able to talk and hear others share their stories can be powerful and healing. We can find new ways to cope and learn about resources in the community that may be helpful. Moreover, a group dynamic can be much more effective than a 1:1 connection. There is something almost magical that happens when a group of people gets together with a shared goal and the expectation of mutual respect and caring.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is offering a free co-facilitator training to establish a support group for people affected by mental illness in our area. These peer-led support groups have been very effective in providing ongoing support and reducing the stigma of mental illness. Currently the closest NAMI peer-led support group is in Bangor, which is often too far for many of us to travel. Those eligible for the training must be living with a mental health diagnosis or have a family member with mental illness. At the end of this free training, co-facilitators will have increased knowledge of group dynamics and the skills to ensure an effective support group atmosphere. Trainees are asked to commit to co-facilitating one group a month for at least one year. This is a wonderful opportunity to help others in your community and also receive some support with your personal journey living with mental illness. For more information, call Christine at 1-800-464-5767, ext. 2305 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another support group is now available for those caring for someone with mental health, substance abuse or behavioral health issues. The Friendship Cottage (118 Ellsworth Rd., Blue Hill) is hosting a monthly group facilitated by Anne Ossanna, of Friendship Cottage and Mindy Kane, of Community Health and Counseling Services. This free group is designed to provide a safe place for caregivers and affected others to find supportive connections with those on a similar journey and is open to those caring for either adults or children. The group is held the second Thursday of each month from 1:30-3:00 pm. Contact Anne Ossanna (374-5612) or Mindy Kane (461-8878) for more information.
Thriving in Place Downeast (TiPD), which sponsors the new behavioral health support group at Friendship Cottage, also sponsors a monthly Clinic of Expertise for any community member to have a free, confidential consultation with a behavioral health specialist from Aroostook Mental Health Center. These Clinics are a great way to get advice on behavioral health resources for you or a loved one. Starting in May 2016, the Clinics will be on the second Thursday of each month, from 1-3pm, on the first floor of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital’s Sussman Building. For more information, contact email@example.com.
Finally, as a patient of any of the three BHMH Provider Offices (Blue Hill, Castine and Stonington), you can also ask your primary care provider for a referral to one of the behavioral health consultants at the practice. These consultants are available for assessment and referral, if needed.
While state budget cuts to mental health programming create severe gaps in the behavioral health safety net in our state, we are lucky to have some resources to fill those gaps in our local community. If you or someone you love is in need of services, please pass along this information so we can help everyone living with mental illness access the support they need.
Patty Bergstrom, LCSW
Behavioral Health Provider at Blue Hill Family Medicine and Thriving in Place Downeast Advisory Council Member
Thriving in Place Downeast is a community collaborative, coordinated by Healthy Peninsula, that includes medical, social service and community-based organizations working to support seniors and people with chronic conditions to stay healthy at home for as long as possible.