Mental Health

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New research within the field of epigenetics may change the way we look at the treatment of mental health issues in children. Dr. Sharna Olfman, a professor of developmental psychology at Point Park University and a practicing psychologist, has published a new book, The Science and Pseudoscience of Children's Mental Health, that aims to de-mystify how mental health issues are introduced within a child's developing brain.

Dr. Olfman believes that the question is no longer confined to internal factors, but instead an integration of children's changing environments with the processes of early brain development and transferrable genetics.   

"We put tens of thousands of chemical toxins into our environment, kids are sitting in front of screens for hours a day…we’ve radically changed the way kids eat…we’ve really changed every facet of their environment." - Dr. Sharna Olfman

Also on the program, a new application out of the Entertainment Technology Center helps children cope with traumatic experiences through gameplay, and the President of the Senator John Heinz History Center Andy Masich commemorates the 150th anniversary of the day the American Civil War came to an end. 

The Pennsylvania House Committee on Human Services heard from mental health workers and advocates Thursday about the challenges faced by those living with mental illness. The main topic was the stigma surrounding mental illness. That stigma, according to each speaker, is a major barrier to health care.

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In commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day, Lu Randall, Executive Director at Autism Connection of PA and April Artz,Coordinator for the EmployAble program at the Squirrel Hill Career Development Center, are working to place adults with mental health issues in STEM jobs. The EmployAble program, which provides supportive services along with their job placements, acquired the funds to include services for adults on the autism spectrum in 2014.

Asked about the challenges faced by job seekers on the autism spectrum, Artz explains:

"When people go to apply for a job, there's still a lot of concern on their end about disclosing or talking about it to their employer. And I think in some ways that is justified because there is still a lot of misunderstanding despite the fact [that] this is very prevalent, and this is sort of being a human, we still have a lot of stigma and anxiety around this."

Explaining her outlook on helping the people she works with to seek employment, Randall says: 

"I see my role, in particular, as providing kind of a cross-cultural explanation of a group that's really not well understood. And it's very similar, when we listen to the issues, to any other minority groups in the past or currently who have a hard time being taken seriously, being respected, not having stereotypes put out there that are untrue."

Also in the program, Pitt professor Michael Kenney talks about why some Americans become interested in joining ISIS, and travel contributor Elaine Labalme gives suggestions on where to go for some extra March Madness.

 

Children with mental health issues in Pennsylvania face a variety of challenges as they age, including difficulties finding state and federal assistance, as well as proper healthcare.

These issues and more are being addressed today and Thursday by State Rep. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny) at his second annual Children and Youth Disability and Mental Health Summit.

“Anybody, in my opinion, who are dealing with disabilities in mental health, cannot be satisfied by what we are seeing from our state and federal government now,” Miller said.

A year-and-a-half-old committee formed to find new ways to reduce violence and promote positive mental health and community well being in Allegheny County is just now making its recommendations to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

The 24-member Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health is calling for the creation of an ongoing Public Health Collaborative. 

A workshop held in the North Hills on Friday provided mental health training to clergy and social workers who work with veterans.

Lt. Colonel Michele Papakie has been in the Air Force for 28 years. She’s the Inspector General at the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

She spoke to clergy and social workers about her deployments and what she has seen in her colleagues as well as her grandfather, father and son who have all served in the military.

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare has chosen Allegheny County as the pilot site for Project LAUNCH, a new program focused on the mental and behavioral health of children. The effort will be seeded by a $4 million federal grant and will be augmented by an estimated $50,000 "in-kind" contribution from the county.

The project will focus on children ages 0-8, and will combine at home nursing care, screenings, and various promotions about metal health.

Allegheny County

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner has announced that a recent audit revealed that complex procedures and internal deficiencies in the County's Department of Human Services (DHS) could prevent people who are seeking mental health services from getting the help they need.

Wagner and District Attorney Stephen Zappala have jointly investigated DHS’ contracted work with Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic’s Re:Solve Crisis Network. Wagner pointed out the decline in funding for mental health programs nationally and statewide. She thinks Allegheny County needs to look at ways to best provide services with limited funding in mind.

Jamie Harris, Director of Advocacy Services at Mental Health America Allegheny County says lack of access to mental health treatment is indeed influenced by cuts in funding, but also the stigmatization of those with a mental illness. 

A recent audit from Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner has found that complex procedures and internal deficiencies in the Department of Human Services (DHS) could lead to problems in the facilitation of mental health services in the county.

“I think this audit shows that there are a number of breaks in the process and those breaks could result in residents in need falling through the cracks if they’re not receiving that help that they need in that most critical hour,” Wagner said.

One in four people live with some form of mental illness in the United States, according to the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania.

But Health and Human Services announced recently that seven health centers in the commonwealth will receive a total of $1,750,000 in Affordable Care Act funding.

This will be used to establish or expand behavioral health services for more than 20,900 people in the commonwealth.

The Squirrel Hill Health Center was one of the seven clinics that received $250,000.

Official Portrait

U.S. Rep.Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, recently proposed legislation to overhaul the nation's mental health care system.

He wants to increase accessibility to care while expanding the use of involuntary treatment. This would better allow family members and caregivers to intervene in cases involving the severely mentally ill.

The bill, called the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act has received mixed reviews. Last Thursday the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee heard testimony on the legislation.

Congressman Murphy said there are roughly 10 million people in the US who suffer from severe mental illness and about half of them are not even aware that they have a problem. 

The federal government spends around $125 billion on mental health annually, but the ways in which that money is spent are ineffective and antiquated, according to U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny).

catskills grrl / flickr

As soon as the clocks change each fall, do you feel like your body goes into hibernation mode?

When winter mood shifts bring us to the point of depression, the experience is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D., and the mental health effects can be devastating for some people.

Kathryn Roecklein, Assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychology and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Pitt and CMU studies and treats S.A.D.

She says, contrary to what some people think, S.A.D. is not a response to cold weather, but the shorter days of winter and lack of sunlight.

Over the next three years, researchers across Pennsylvania will be examining two different methods of mental health treatment, to determine which has the better outcomes. One of those is the Person-Centered approach.

“That’s focusing on the person who has a behavioral health condition getting support and information from a peer, someone who also has the experience, to prepare for the meetings with their doctors,” said

Kim MacDonald-Wilson is with the UPMC Center for High-Value Health Care.

Icars / flickr

Refugees to the region face a number of challenges, unfamiliarity with a different language is even more complicated when trying to obtain health care.

90.5 WESA Behavioral Health Reporter Erika Beras is embarking on a month-long series on the challenges refugees face in the Pittsburgh area to obtain health care. She says her interest in the topic was sparked by the high population of refugees in Pittsburgh. 

An official with the Department of Public Welfare is pushing for a statewide assessment of how mental health services are delivered in the commonwealth.
               
Dennis Marion, a deputy secretary with the agency’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, says the state isn’t proactive enough in treating mental illness before it becomes an emergency.
               

Rep. Tom Caltagirone Facebook Page

Representative Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks, has sponsored a bill requiring mental health training for police and district judges. Under the current system, he claims that many people who should be treated in a mental health clinic are instead placed in jail because there is not enough room.

One solution he recommends is to use closed prisons for these potential patients and make them into mental health facilities.

Kiran Foster / Flickr

On college campuses across the country, mental health is becoming an increasing concern. In the past year, one in five students have received a psychiatric diagnosis or been treated for mental health issues.

As a result, there is a rising demand for mental health professionals to provide the proper treatment for students. According to Tevya Zukor, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Counseling Center, there's an increased need because of the de-stigmatization of mental health issues among the public.

He says students are seeking treatment at earlier ages and many come into college with a history of mental health treatment. A second reason is that in the past 10 to 15 years there have been huge advancements in psychotropic medicine.

The state House is advancing a proposal to make it easier for military veterans to receive free mental health counseling in less formal settings.

The bill would change licensing rules to allow retired mental health professionals to volunteer their services through approved groups serving veterans and their families, as well as military personnel.

A top administrator from the federal Department of Health and Human Services came to Pittsburgh on Friday to speak to leaders in the mental health community about the push to recognize mental health and substance abuse issues as a public health issue.

“I think a lot of people, especially in the public, have viewed mental health and substance abuse as sort of a social problem,” said Pamela Hyde, administrator of SAMSHA, the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

The last couple years have seen high profile mass shootings and terrorist attacks — Aurora, Newtown, Boston.

Here in Pittsburgh we’ve seen the same. Last year a gunman opened fire at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, killing one person and injuring seven. And in 2009, a man walked into an aerobics class at an L.A. Fitness and started shooting, killing three women and injuring nine.

There are also regular incidents of community and street violence. Last month a gunman injured two women and killed a 15-month-old in the East Hills.

The state Department of Public Welfare wants to reduce mental health stigma.

A new initiative, "Mental Health Matters," is being funded by a reduction in Community Hospital Integration Program Project, or CHIPP, funding to a county that was unable to move clients into the community in the time frame that was originally planned and from money set aside for litigation needs that wasn’t used, according to department spokeswoman Donna Morgan.

Leaders hope a new commission will reduce violence and promote positive mental health in Allegheny County.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he formed the Public Health Commission on Preventing Gun Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health upon request of state Rep. Ed Gainey of the 24th Legislative District.

“We’re going to be focused on making sure we look at the best practices, the best ideas, implement them in our community and doing all that we have to do to make sure that we reduce and eliminate the violence in our neighborhood,” Gainey said.