Mental health in focus

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Misty Harmon, a family and consumer science educator from Perry County, Ohio, speaks about the warning signs of mental health issues and how to offer help.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — As mental health issues become more prevalent, local leaders are taking steps to help professionals and the public know better how to identify and address those concerns.

A course was held last week at Undo’s in St. Clairsville to help local professionals be more aware of these problems, the warning signs and how to offer help.

Jami Dellifield, a family and consumer science educator with the Ohio State University Extension Service out of Harden County, Ohio, and Misty Harmon, a family and consumer science educator from Perry County, spoke about the negative connotations of mental health issues and discussed ways to make more people aware of the warning signs of mental health problems. they also talked about who to contact in the event of a mental health emergency.

Lorrissa Dunfee, an educator with the Ohio State Extension Office in Belmont County, added that mental health concerns are a pressing issue among the public that present concerns at all types of agencies. She also referenced a recent murder/suicide outside of St. Clairsville as one of the potential tragic consequences of mental illness.

“Because of the things that are happening in our community with the suicides and the homicide/suicide, and just the cry for help that so many community members are experiencing, we decided to offer this mental health first aid training. Jami and Misty are certified instructors, and they came from two different county extension offices,” she said, adding that the guests included members of local school districts, Head Start, and other community


“We have a lot of professionals in there that are being trained to recognize mental health issues,” she said.

“It’s an eight-hour certification course, much like first aid or CPR,” Dellifield said. “You learn about warning signs and what to look for. We are talking to individuals about how to look for signs of anxiety, signs of depression, signs of bipolar, schizophrenia, substance use and abuse, and really anything else that falls into behavioral health, and what they can do if they are encountering anybody who is experiencing a mental health problem or crisis, and how they can stand in the gap until appropriate professional help has been called. We’ve given out both local hotlines and national hotlines to refer other individuals to,” she said.

“We teach the ALGEE method,” she said, adding that the extension offices teach to assess for risk of suicide or harm, listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help, and encourage self-help.

There was a focus on many local issues contributing to mental health problems, including drug use.

“We know in studies that one in four American adults … suffer from a diagnosed mental illness or a behavioral health disorder,” she said. “The most common is anxiety, followed by substance use and abuse, and then depression. We’re seeing an increase in all of that in our students, and right now as well the rate of suicide is up for individuals 45 to 64. We’re seeing more completions. It’s all ages and all demographics and also social economic status.”

The course included information about how to ask someone if they need help.

Another significant contributor to the issues many face is the new and ubiquitous presence of social media and the pressures social media can apply.

“I think the biggest thing social media does is it gives us a false sense of friendship. It makes us feel that we have lots and lots of people around us, but in reality we’re living in isolation,” she said. “When I’m on my phone and I’m texting, it’s not the same as someone reaching out or someone asking ‘how are you?'”

They pointed out phenomena such as “KYS” (Kill Yourself) messages, pressuring individuals to suicide.

“We put all of our weight on how many likes we have or how many times we’ve been retweeted, when in reality as long as we have one person who cares about us and loves us, if we can make a difference to one person, that’s way more important than somebody retweeting me 60 times,” Dellifield said.

Dana Gallagher, a counselor with St. Clairsville Elementary School, said the event was beneficial in terms of the information available.

“I wanted to get more resources on how to help families, how to help our students. People that are suffering from some of the mental disorders, where can we go to get them help,” she said. “It’s been very positive — very helpful in knowing what kind of signs to look for. Things to do when people are going through a mental health breakdown and learning from other people in the room. There’s several different agencies, and it helps to hear their insight in what to do in situations and where they go to seek help.”

She added that young children are dealing with severe issues, too.

“Truly, lately it has been children who are is suffering from an adult who has overdosed, death in the family from drug overdose,” Gallagher said. “We’re seeing a lot of that, and just knowing how we can help is huge.”

Another similar event will be scheduled in June.