May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In this episode, we discuss mental health - the stigmas, the myths and the misconceptions, and generational changes toward self-care and wellness. We interview Sylvia Moscariello, Program Director of Liberty Community Services, Amanda Forcucci, Health & Physical Education Curriculum Director for Hamden Schools and Judy Campbell, a school psychologist for Hamden Public Schools. Mike Wheatley examines the role of Hollywood in shaping popular conceptions of mental illness. Our co-hosts read stories from staff about their own journeys toward mental well-being.
Michael Pierry 00:07
Hello and welcome to the Hamden Library Podcast. I'm your host, Michael Pierry, and with me as always is my co host, Alyssa Bussard.
Alyssa Bussard 00:15
Michael Pierry 00:16
I want to take this moment to provide a content warning for this episode. We will be discussing mental health awareness and may touch upon subjects that may trigger some individuals. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We thought we would follow in the footsteps of the National Alliance of Mental Illness and work to fight the stigma around mental illness. For 2022's Mental Health Awareness Month, the National Alliance of Mental Illness is using the message of "Together for Mental Health" to help advocate for mental health and access to care. Ariana Davis, from our podcast team, will be interviewing Sylvia Moscariello, Program Director of Liberty Community Services, Amanda Forcucci, the K-12 Health and Physical Education Curriculum Director for Hamden Schools, and Judy Campbell, one of the School Psychologists for Hamden Public Schools.
Alyssa Bussard 01:06
This is a heavy topic.
Michael Pierry 01:06
But a very important one. It seems like since the pandemic we're seeing more and more people experiencing a mental health crisis. From bullying on social media to political polarization, the world we're currently living in does not always seem particularly conducive to good mental health. So I'm glad we're addressing it.
Alyssa Bussard 01:29
Yeah, me too. What has your experience been growing up in regards to talking about mental health? As I like to tell everyone, you are older than I am, so I'm intrigued to hear if mental health was a taboo subject when you were growing up.
Michael Pierry 01:41
It's true, I am very old. I think growing up my awareness of mental health was largely shaped by pop culture, which is unfortunate because mental illness has been mined relentlessly by Hollywood and exploited for entertainment. I don't think I had anything close to an accurate understanding of psychiatry or therapy.
Alyssa Bussard 02:00
Yeah, neither did I. It was just not something anyone had any education about when I was growing up. It wasn't one of those things where we do not speak of it. But it was never a realistic explanation or diagnosis while I was growing up. It was more of a joke, honestly. In a way it was mocked as if oh, mental illness isn't real.
Michael Pierry 02:18
Yeah, you still see it in our language, like when someone has an opinion you don't agree with. People often say something like "you're crazy". Or I've even noticed the use of "insanely" as an adverb in contexts that have nothing to do with mental health, like, "these chocolate chip cookies are insanely good".
Alyssa Bussard 02:34
Yeah. And I see a really big difference between my experience and, like, my teens' experience. You know, for example, that generation cares so much more about self care and mental wellness. It's almost mocked if you don't care about it.
Michael Pierry 02:34
Yeah. I mean, when I was a teen, I was depressed. And I had absolutely no idea that there was anything I could do about it. I just thought, "this is how I am. I don't necessarily like it, but what are you gonna do?"
Alyssa Bussard 03:01
Do you feel as if things have changed in how we view mental illness now? I feel as if I see a sensitivity to it that I never experienced when I was younger.
Michael Pierry 03:08
Yeah, I think so. It's an uphill battle, because there's so many myths and misconceptions and stereotypes, but it's definitely better than when I was a kid.
Alyssa Bussard 03:18
Yeah, me too. Well, we asked some people to anonymously share their journeys with mental illness, and we're going to read some of their statements. I remember how hard it was to find my voice and say, I am not okay. I had spent months feeling sick to my stomach. At first I thought I had a virus and thought that I had better eat some bland foods in order to be well. Time passed, and I did not get better. I went to my doctor and he told me, "this is your anxiety and depression manifesting into physical symptoms. We need a plan to move forward and get you well". I scoffed. Anxiety and depression were not things that ever felt real to me. No one spoke about mental illness in my family, though I often wondered if some of my family members had undiagnosed illnesses. I fought to have some sort of control so I convinced myself that if I started to eat bland food only, my stomach would stop hurting.
Michael Pierry 03:27
Alyssa Bussard 04:16
Weeks went by of me eating a piece of toast twice a day. I did not get better. Instead, I spiraled. I convinced myself I had something growing in my stomach because it hurts so bad. I would walk around my house pacing back and fourth, just silently weeping. I would be afraid to fall asleep so I just paced and paced until the early hours of the morning, when I was too exhausted to stay awake any longer. Finally, I was at work one evening and I could no longer hold it together. I was panicking and told myself it was time to go to the hospital. After many tests, it was determined that I did not have anything growing in my stomach, but I was malnourished and exhausted and had what the doctor nicely called a simple nervous breakdown. They explained to me that this is not a medical term or official diagnosis, but really a manifestation of my anxiety and depression, getting to be too much for my head, heart and body to handle. I returned to my regular doctor the next day, and he prescribed me medication for anxiety and depression. And I wept and wept and wept. The taboo of having to be on medication to control something I should be able to control was simply too much. I had been told my whole life to just "snap out of it", or "just try not to think of the bad things". I had been put down by my loved ones and told that I "didn't have it that bad". So I had a hard time believing that medication could help me. I remember laying on the floor before taking the first dose and crying to my best friend. He said to me, "you need to get off the floor and take it. Do you need me to come there? I will help you off the floor." Just that statement helped me. Feeling less alone helped me. I was able to start my medication and get on a path to recovery. I taught myself about mental illness and invisible diseases and I work hard on my own self care, which consists of many things, including therapy and medication. I now take great pride in advocating for myself and others who struggle with mental illness. I tell my story, so others do not feel alone and know that if needed, I will help them get off the floor. I think the big takeaway there was how scared they were to get help, as if they would rather be sick than admit they had an illness or admit that their mental illness was a real illness.
Michael Pierry 06:31
Wow. Yeah. I think a lot of us grew up feeling like that. It's weird because if you break your leg or something, you probably wouldn't have an issue admitting that you have a fractured leg bone. But when it comes to mental health, there are still these taboos or barriers to just being able to say, look, things are not okay. I'm not okay. And I need some help.
Alyssa Bussard 06:52
Yeah, it's the invisible illness situation, you know, people can't believe you if they can't see it. Right. I think we have another statement to read.
Michael Pierry 06:59
Yeah, let me share that one. I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was about 12 years old. When you're that young, and you start to feel sad, you don't necessarily feel like you can talk to anyone about it. I was in my own head a lot, even as a fairly young child anyway, and I gradually learned through elementary school that trying to talk to my peers and even teachers was a largely fruitless endeavor. I was "othered" pretty early on by my school administration because I was above my grade level intellectually and below my grade level in physical education. That's right, I was failing at gym. This was largely a motivational problem. They wanted me to do things like throw a ball, catch a ball, do a forward roll. I didn't want to do those things. I thought they were extremely boring. I wanted to read. The universe was very, very big and filled with things that I needed to find out about. I did not want to waste my time practicing to throw and catch so I could play games that didn't interest me in the slightest with other children who I mostly found were utterly devoid of any intellectual curiosity. As I got older, I started to become quite angry and depressed at the state of the world. I was overcome with feelings of loss and sadness. Part of this had to do with family things that I wasn't really able to process correctly at the time. But part of it was legitimate disappointment and disgust with what I perceived to be a squandering of opportunity on the part of the leaders of the world. I wrote a lot in journals at the time about this, expressing my feeling that the world would come to an end within my lifetime. I was a bit too young and naive to actually imagine what the collapse of civilization would mean for me personally, so I wasn't afraid, just depressed. Also around this time, I began to suffer chronic feelings of worthlessness. My self esteem was really bad and I went through the rest of high school and began college in a state of constant anxiety and depression. This led to me essentially flunking out of my first year of college, although I was able to transfer to another school for my sophomore year. In exchange for keeping my grades up at the second school, my parents agreed to let me transfer--again--to a school in New York City that my best friend was attending. My anxiety levels were through the roof, but I managed to adjust to life in the city reasonably well. By then, I was self medicating with nicotine and alcohol, though not to the extent of many of my peers. Still, I was unable to graduate to the crippling social anxiety and depression. I was afraid of my professors, of my peers, of everything. I kept trying to take a required course in public speaking and dropping out because I couldn't handle it. I began to despair of ever earning my bachelor's degree. I lived in secret shame, not even able to admit to my roommates--one of whom was the aforementioned best friend--my actual status as a non-graduate. I hid and I pretended and I lied. Then finally, I started working for a tiny Internet startup company whose CEO was a sociopath that let his dogs roam around the office eating his employees' lunches off of their desks. Oddly enough, this turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I started working in the web production department there, and the manager kindly took me under her wing. She asked me questions nobody in my life had ever asked me before, like, "have you ever been to therapy". She had, and her father was a psychologist. She allowed me the space to finally begin to try addressing some of my issues. She took some of the mystery and weird stigma away from the idea of going to see someone for mental and emotional problems. It was still another two years, during which I actually got worse, before I finally was evaluated by a psychiatrist and began taking antidepressants. I started to improve. Finally, after about six months of being on medication, I felt strong enough to take the public speaking class I was so afraid of, I got an A. After one of my speeches, one of my classmates told me, quite sincerely, I believe, that she thought I should have my own talk show. Full of newfound confidence and with the kindness and grace of some amazing professors in my school's English department, I was able to clear up most of my incompletes, finish some long overdue essays, and graduate. I still struggle with anxiety and have self esteem issues. But now I know that there is support, that I can talk to people, and I don't have to be afraid. I know that suffering from mental illness doesn't make me weaker or lesser than anyone else. In fact, going through these experiences and feeling the way I do, helps me understand and empathize with others more easily.
Alyssa Bussard 11:53
Wow. So again, we have a story that shows how hard it is to speak up about mental illness, and how hard it is to be believed. There's also the aspects of you know, someone believing in you, and having that kind of bring you to the next level where you're able to get help. You know, I think it's important to know also that while there's medication options in both of our stories, there's also therapy, and other things that go into play. So it's really different for everyone. Everyone's journey is very different. And then the idea of self medicating, which I think we both know is incredibly common.
Michael Pierry 12:26
Absolutely. Didn't you do some reading about statistics on this stuff?
Alyssa Bussard 12:31
Yeah, I did. I was actually interested in the facts and numbers about all of this when we were researching. Obviously, there's a lot of data out there, especially since the pandemic as it affected many people's mental health, being isolated from loved ones, and so on. So here are some of the numbers I got from the National Alliance of Mental Illness from 2020. Among US adults, one in five have experienced a mental illness. 1 in 20 have experienced a serious mental illness, and over 12 million have had serious thoughts of suicide. In fact, the suicide rate has risen every year, from 2008 to 2018. 47,511 Americans died by suicide in 2019 alone. Going a step further, 1 in 15 Americans have experienced both mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. Researchers have found that about half of individuals who experience a substance abuse disorder during their lives will also experience a co-occurring mental disorder and vice versa. Mid-life deaths due to drug and alcohol use have risen substantially over the last 20 years.
Michael Pierry 13:38
Yeah, it's a much bigger and more widespread problem than we were taught or made aware of when we were growing up. It really is a society-wide issue and it's so common. I'm now at the point where I really don't mind talking about my own mental health journey, because I know that there are lots of other people out there who have gone through similar things. And if, by talking about it, it makes even one other person feel less alone or gives them the strength to reach out to someone else, then that's worth it to me.
Alyssa Bussard 14:07
Absolutely. I agree. You know, it's kind of funny how I am very open with my mental illness and my journey to wellness. And I often find people a little taken aback when I'm open about my struggles, or, you know, childhood trauma or things like that. I find people kind of look at me in a way like, "oh, did she just say that"? Or, you know, "is she really sharing this" or oversharing, and I don't, I don't view it that way, because you have no idea who's around who needed you to say that. And I'll be honest with you. Recently, we had a staff day where we talked about personality types and things like that. And in sharing about that I did mention some of my mental health struggles and some trauma and I've had one colleague actually come up to me after that and share with me that they had some of the same struggles and that they really never were able to talk about it with anyone. And it's kind of made us a little bit closer, but it's also made me feel like I can be an advocate. And they viewed me as a safe person to talk to about this because I'm so open with talking about it.
Michael Pierry 15:19
Yeah, that's what it's all about. That's wonderful.
Alyssa Bussard 15:21
Yeah. Okay, let's get into some of our interviews now. Ariana spoke with Amanda Forcucci, the K-12 Health and Physical Education Curriculum Director for Hamden Schools and Judy Campbell, one of the school psychologists for Hamden Public Schools. This is a great interview that touches on a lot of things we have just been talking about and a lot more. After that, we'll listen to Ariana speak to Sylvia Moscariello, Program Director of Liberty Community Services about social workers in libraries.
Ariana Davis 15:49
I have the privilege of interviewing Miss Judy Campbell, school psychologist at Hamden High School, and Miss Amanda Forcucci, Health and Physical Education Curriculum Director for Hamden Public Schools. Thank you so much, ladies, for joining me today.
Amanda Forcucci 16:05
Ariana Davis 16:07
My first question is for Miss Campbell: in your opinion, what factors and/or influences have contributed to the stigmas surrounding mental health?
Judy Campbell 16:18
Oh, I think it goes way, way back. You know, a number of areas. One, just how people -- the media -- has portrayed mental health, scary movies, violence, and that is so incorrect, because 50% of Americans are going to have mental health problems at some point in their life. 1 in 3 have had it in the past year, at least. And those numbers may have gone up. And I think the thing about any mental health issues is one, they're invisible, so people don't see them. There's this old, you know, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps, suck it up" sort of mentality in our culture and some things just can't be sucked up, no matter how hard you try. And people, historically, I don't think have looked at mental health as illness in the way we look at maybe heart disease, or kidney disease, or a broken leg or anything else. It gets back to the invisible piece. The other part is because it's invisible, when you're experiencing it, you don't know that there's something wrong or off. It's, you know, just that's your reality. And it's hard for people to understand that well, "maybe I'm seeing the world a little bit differently and non functionally" until it gets really bad does anything change. There's fear, there shame, "what's wrong with me". Again, it's a different mentality of physical versus mental health. We have no shame in a broken arm, we have no shame when our hearts are not working the way they should be. But for some reason, and again, culturally, there is that limited awareness, not being aware that something's wrong. Not trusting the system, not trusting the mental health system. It doesn't -- If you find a counselor, you might have to see a few counselors or therapists before you find someone you really like and are comfortable with. Some people are just so hopeless, you know, nothing's going to change this. Again, if you hurt yourself you can't use your -- like, you broke your leg, you can't run. But we can -- very often until we're just completely paralyzed with mental health issues -- can kind of shuffle along, not well. So I think there's all sorts of things. There's also cultural, you know, not all cultures believe in psychology as a science. They rely on their churches, keep it in the family. Don't let people know what's going on behind closed doors. So I think there's a lot of these -- a number of components -- that attribute that.
Ariana Davis 19:21
Thank you so much for sharing that-- and going into that background of the stigma surrounding mental health. My next question for Miss Forcucci is: do you feel that the teaching approach of mental health to teens should differ in comparison to that of adults?
Judy Campbell 19:23
Amanda Forcucci 19:41
Well, I think that the teaching of mental health would probably be different based on any individual. You know, I think it's interesting what Miss Campbell brought up about the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" type of deal. I think that's also generational--
Judy Campbell 20:06
Amanda Forcucci 20:06
I think, right? I think ballpark you go with, you know, the the 50 year old, 60 year olds, 70 year olds, I think a lot of those generations were taught: you don't complain, grateful for what you have. You get up every day you're alive, you go to work, you put food on the table, and you shut your mouth. And that's it. I think this generation maybe -- I'm 40. So I would say maybe I'm in that -- So 40s, 30s, and below, I think there's more awareness around "it's okay to complain". People-- right? I think people don't really bat an eye when young moms are complaining about their kids. There's even jokes about it on, you know, TikTok and social media, like, "oh, these little boogers", you know, and people, like, "oh ha ha. oh, yeah", but, like, talking with my mother? If my mother ever said, "my kids are driving me nuts", or "I need a weekend away", people would -- "Oh, my goodness, you're terrible. You don't say that about your children", like, you know. So I think that needs to be said, because when you're talking about young adults and older adults, I think to have that frame of reference of what it was like in society for the older generations and what it's like for the younger generations is important to take note, because when you're talking about mental health, you're gonna have to, I think, approach it differently, depending on who you're talking to. So the older adults saying -- older generations, excuse me -- saying, "It's okay, that you're having a bad day". And it's okay to say, "My children are driving me nuts, I love them. But they're driving me nuts". Or "I'm gonna go to a retreat for a weekend, because I deserve it". And that's okay. "And I'm going to come home ready and refreshed, and I'm going to be my best self, for my kids". And that's important. And this younger generations, I think: stay off the social media. I think it's too much "keeping up with the Joneses", a cliche phrase but, you know, looking a certain way, or talking a certain way, keeping up with the trends. My goodness, words and language and everything, it literally changes on the daily and if you say an antiquated phrase or word, it's like, you know, so I think that adds to the -- I think the younger generations are very aware of, you know, life sometimes is just, it sucks sometimes. And we're okay saying that. But then it's almost -- we put our stuff out there, like a lot of us do on social media and I almost think that that's too much, I think, to let's give, let's teach those coping skills, let's teach to be mindful. It's, "How about inwardly look, and just shh" [laughter] So it's like a balance, like, it's okay to complain. But in the next breath, it's like, okay, find your inner peace and figure out how to move on like, enough. Let's complain, get it out. And then how can we move forward?
Ariana Davis 23:18
Mmm hmm Thank you for mentioning the role of social media, how important that is in the mental health of the young generation, and how important it is to be balanced when it comes to our intake and what we what we give to social media as well.
Amanda Forcucci 23:55
Yeah, well, when you -- I mean, when you think about it, when I was younger, I had Teen Bop Magazine, right? I had magazines and I would flip through and I would put my pictures on the on the wall of -- Gosh, I don't even know anymore. New Kids on the Block. I, you know, "oh my gosh, Joey, so cute". And that was my frame of reference of what's cool and what I'm supposed to aspire to, you know, my future husband or whatever. But now with Instagram, TikTok, so, there -- I had what, maybe one picture or every month when a new magazine came out? I had that timeframe to like new pictures, new media -- or that random commercial in the one TV I had in my house growing up. Okay? No computers. But now, you have handheld phones that kids and everyone now -- you're talking thousands of images a day. Thousands of what other people's lives are like, right? So it's so much harder. It's-- so much fake stuff is out there, and it's so hard to get kids while they're young, to have them understand that that's not reality. You know, that's not real, you know, "Keeping Up With The Kardashians"? That's not real. [laughter]
Ariana Davis 25:15
Amanda Forcucci 25:17
Ariana Davis 25:18
Exactly, and that is a perfect segue into my next question for Miss Campbell: the role that social media has played during the pandemic, and how people are also dealing with the effects of dealing with the pandemic, especially for teens.
Judy Campbell 25:41
Ariana Davis 25:41
So, experts are debating whether the problems that teens have been experiencing, whether that term "trauma" accurately describes the emotional response that many people may be having to live during this time period. What is your viewpoint, Miss Campbell, on this discussion in relation to the mental health of adolescents?
Judy Campbell 26:03
Well, trauma comes in all different forms. And I think, until the pandemic, we were looking at trauma as being a one or two, even multiple time event. So you think of post traumatic stress disorder -- could be a result of an accident, abuse, trauma could come from, again, a one time injury. The problem that -- what's going on with the pandemic is, it's a whole different type of trauma, and it's traumatic stress. And for adults and students alike, it's unpredictable. We still aren't at the end of it. We don't know how it's, you know, what the outcome -- we're going to be feeling this for years and years and years. With students, we're talking two-plus years of their developmental lives have been changed. I don't want to say lost, but they've been changed, they're different. And students aren't left -- or are not on the same trajectory of development as a result. Is that trauma? Well, there's still stress. To say one's trauma and one isn't, it's hard to say. There's not one person who is functioning at 100% right now, none of us. And for students I think it's harder, because there's no perspective. You know, you're in the middle of your adolescence, and "is this my life?" And it's kind of scary to think, "when is this going to be over?" But what's happening, the traumatic part for us, it keeps coming, and it keeps coming, and then it keeps coming. So now masks aren't mandatory, but it still keeps coming. So people are getting it, and the media is talking about, you know, yet another possible variant out there. So having that stress constantly for two years is unsustainable, and we have a limited amount of energy for coping skills. We have a limited amount of tolerance for adversity, and we're seeing with students now, it's harder for them to regulate their emotion. There is, there are feelings of hopelessness, sleeplessness, physical manifestations: headaches, nausea, vomiting, which are all signs of trauma, but the difference between now and pre COVID? It's a different type of trauma. And it impacts us each differently. And for some people, it becomes paralytic, and can't live your life in a productive manner. And that's out of your control. And for some, most of us, I think we're just kind of limping along and hoping for the better. But in either case, whether we call it trauma or just difficulty emotionally now, counseling is really, really important. And I know for kids in particular, adolescents and younger children, therapists are hard, or their waiting lists are long. It's hard to get by. Social media has been interesting, in that -- I'm old, Amanda. I've got 22 years on you. To me, you know, my daughter still complains because we had a flip phone in high school she could only use to get picked up from track practice.
Amanda Forcucci 29:33
[laughter] Yes. The flip phone.
Judy Campbell 29:50
I ruined her social life, but-- But um, with that, you know, it's so my age. I see in people my age being really tied into always on the phone, and I read things about--
Amanda Forcucci 30:02
That's right. Good old Nokia.
Judy Campbell 30:07
And I'm sorry if I'm getting off track. But again, adults are getting caught up with the "what's a nice life? What should I be wearing", rather than "who am I" and we're losing ourselves and then with students, they're all communication for -- while we were out of school from March until we came back and really fully into September, it was predominantly social media, and that's not real. You know, you're not reading facial expressions. There's a lack of intimacy in friendships, and, again, we're talking about during the developmental parts of their lives, where this is when you're supposed to be developing those skills, learning how to act in a crowd, learning what's appropriate and not, and you're not getting any of that feedback. So I think that creates another level of challenge for kids reintegrating into society and life, and I think that's why. And they say, "Well, I have lots of friends", and I'll pursue questioning and like, "what do you do with them?" "Oh, we play video games". "Next to each other or online?" "Online." Well, that's not -- their definition of friendship is very different than it may have been five years ago, or three years ago. And we're social beings, you know. Even people who are introverts have one or two friends, and that's the nature of us, you know, so it is impacting--
Ariana Davis 31:34
The nature of human beings.
Judy Campbell 31:36
Ariana Davis 31:39
For Miss Forcucci, my question is: comparing your observations, as a teacher pre pandemic, to now teaching during the pandemic, how has mental health impacted the educational development and academic success of young students?
Amanda Forcucci 31:55
Oh, well, yeah, I don't know. How long is this podcast?
Judy Campbell 32:02
Amanda Forcucci 32:03
When you think -- Well, alright, let's think about where the minds of our students were, and our teachers, for that matter -- pre pandemic. There was a system in place. There was procedures and protocols, graduation requirements, positive behavior systems in place. My goodness, you name it. You know, it was a machine. And then the idea of school, you know, was out there. So if I was five, I didn't know what kindergarten was gonna be like, but I knew I had to go to school and I knew I was going to learn stuff, and so forth. And you know, I knew okay, middle school is coming, oh, it's going to be harder, or high school is coming, it's gonna be harder, and, oh, I gotta get ready for college. All of that, all of it came to a screaming halt. Talk about the rug being pulled out from under you. There was -- I'm trying to remember -- There was this news about "oh, this disease is overseas, and it's harming people". And you're like, "Oh, it'll never reach America. Okay". Now all of a sudden, "oh, no, it's here". And then we're making packets because we're going to shut down and it was go mode, and then we shut down. And then people experience different things. People experience loss, profound loss, and I'm talking life. We lost people we loved. We lost jobs. We lost housing. My goodness. So when you think about what you need to survive: food, clothing, housing, parents, guardians. When some of those things were stripped away from you, school kind of doesn't seem -- you know, in perspective to that, you know, it's like, "Well, I don't have a mom anymore", or "I don't have a house anymore. I'm sleeping on someone's couch". Or, you know, "I don't have a clean pair of underwear", --seriously, you know? "But I'm expected to do this research paper and turn it in by Friday", or whatever. And that wasn't the expectation, by the way. The school system did a fantastic job of trying to scale back and make sure that kids, my goodness, had what we need. Like Hamden? We had meals that we gave out to families, no questions asked. You don't have to bring an ID, just come, you know. And that's a credit to our school system, and Woodson's, our program that we work with. You know, we tried our best to, I mean, talk about -- yes, we had all those technology, but all of a sudden, boom, we're virtual. And so teachers, talk -- oh my gosh, talk about the mental health of teachers -- we haven't even gone into that. What they had to try to do to accommodate our kids? It's just, there's no word for it yet. You know, Webster hasn't come up with a word for it yet. You're talking, they're going through their own stuff, they also experienced this pandemic.
Ariana Davis 35:27
Amanda Forcucci 35:27
So, yes, it's their job to educate young people, but oh, my gosh, you know? And I'm not diminishing anyone's profession, but when you can kind of go into a cubicle and work at your own pace at something, you know, you have possibly pockets of time where you can go to the bathroom, get a cup of tea, take a mental moment for yourself, because you need to reset. When you're a teacher, you don't have that. You don't have that. You have little ones staring at you and you're on, you are on, on, on. And then, now, when we were virtual, you've got parents in the background, making sure that, you know, "what are you -- why are you talking to my kid?", and all that stuff, so that was an extra added level of stress, anxiety, that our educators faced. So now fast forward. Now today, now we're back in after what Judy was talking about, about two years, two and a half years of this kind of weird, hybrid virtual, what's really important in our lives, and now we're back and then we're trying to get back what we had in terms of the structure, the requirements, the deadlines, the "Okay, no, we got to try to get back to real life" when we're kind of mentally, we're -- Some people haven't even recouped what they lost in terms of dealt with maybe a profound loss of individual that they love deeply. Some people are still out of work. Some people still don't have a roof over their heads, or they're still sleeping on somebody's couch. So getting back to normal? Oh, boy, I don't -- you know, what does that look like? This could be the new normal, and so I think the school system, we're in it now. I mean, that's a loaded question. Because we're literally right now we're trying to figure that out. How do we do right by our kids by -- Obviously, we want structure. And obviously we want to do right by these kids to teach them what it is like out there in the real world: deadlines, and we need to do XYZ. But how do we do so without adding on to the stressful situation that they are currently in? I don't know. I don't know, and that's an honest answer. I don't know, I think -- and kids are all over the place. There's some kids that are completely fine. Completely. They're okay, and they're doing well, and they're thriving. And there's others that are not. So it's not a one size fits all, either. So when we ask the question, "how do we do that?", it looks different for everyone and in a school system like Hamden where it's very large. We have a lot of kids. So how do we meet the needs of every single student? You know, like Judy was saying, there's long lines to get into health professionals. You know, guidance counselors, social workers, school psychologists, they're all tapped. We're trying, they're trying to help. Parents are tapped.
Amanda Forcucci and Judy Campbell 38:30
Amanda Forcucci 38:33
You know? But I think we put one foot forward, we keep trying, and I am hopeful -- because we have to be -- that we slowly keep crawling forward, we keep moving forward, we keep crawling forward. And by "help" you talk about that human connectedness. We just keep trying to stay connected and try to crawl out of this together as a society. It's the only thing we can do.
Ariana Davis 38:59
Thank you so much for being so transparent in your answer to that question. My last question for Miss Campbell is: what advice or recommendations would you give to teens and young adults who are struggling to manage their mental health?
Judy Campbell 39:13
Oh, absolutely. Right here within Hamden -- and I know people from outside of Hamden may be listening to this -- but right within Hamden, at Hamden High School, we have four school psychologists and four social workers. We predominantly work with students who receive special education services, but any student we do and can see. If they need more clinical -- none of us are clinical social workers or functioning as clinical social workers or clinical psychologists -- we do have a health clinic down in the health office, with a full time social worker, and so that would be free and they just have to sign up for that. So we can make those connections. Parents call me constantly looking for referrals for outside therapists, or they could contact their pediatricians who also have people that they've worked with, they know. There are a number -- like Clifford Beers has a number to call. There's a lot of different agencies. 211 can help people get that if they can't, but I would first look at your own personal physician, they can make recommendations. And here at [Hamden High] school or at the elementary schools or the middle school, your psychologists and social workers have, have lists of names that we've worked with, who've worked with students who've gotten, you know, positive results. The other thing I really want to emphasize is, as we've heard about, the suicide ideation is through the roof with young people, with older people, with -- you know -- everyone, and it's awful, it's scary, it speaks to the hopelessness of where we are. So the suicide prevention hotline -- and Ariana, I'll email you this number -- is 1-800-273-8255. That's the national number, and it's a lot to remember, if you're in trouble. We try to have it pasted all over. But beginning in mid July, there's going to be -- you know how we have 911? Well, they're going to have a three digit number, and it's 988, that people will be able to call. So it's a lot easier to make that connection, because when you're in -- people who make attempts, or die by suicide, they're in such a dark, hopeless place that is unimaginable. It's unimaginable, and if [breath] can get them through that 30 seconds or a minute, that could save their lives. But these people are highly trained at that level. The other piece, if you can't, or you know somebody and they are in real trouble, you can call 911. There's that. And again, therapists, trained. And I know that is really difficult. Lines are long, but that would be the best thing there. And also, our teachers at the high school, they're -- all teachers are phenomenal. But a lot of them, they see their students every day. And so students often go to them, if they're comfortable, and they talk. And then if the teacher feels like, "well, this is more than I can handle", they'll give us a call. And we kind of come in and we call parents. So there's a lot of support, I have to say, the teachers here are beyond phenomenal in terms of that, you know. And I just want to add -- having not so much to do with that -- But something I read early on in the pandemic, and I keep this in mind. And as I said earlier, none of us are working at 100%. Some days we might be, some moments we might be, but even if we appear that we're doing okay, we're expecting ourselves to be where we were in January 2020. And we're not and it's frustrating. And I think, you know, as much as we'd like -- but to keep in mind in Hamden on March 13, we were out of school. But as Amanda had been saying earlier, we had our automatic routines, we knew what to do. So it took a lot of energy and mental energy to switch from a routine before March 13 to trying to figure out "what are we doing between now and the end of the school year, what are the expectations", making sure kids were okay. That was us. But even kids. "Now I have a different way to have school. This is scary. I've never done it this way before". Being home and working is harder than I ever thought it would be, just to maintain, trying to -- I'm a fully grown adult, and it was hard to stay motivated --
Amanda Forcucci 44:05
Judy Campbell 44:07
And to keep going. But then that stuff, we had summer. So we're starting a new batch of routines. Then we start again at the end of August, of '20, 2020, and now we're on hybrid. But then school halted. We're all set to come back and then we started a week later. And then we went for a bit and things changed, I think, in October for a bit. And then in November, everyone was back home--
Amanda Forcucci 44:34
Judy Campbell 44:34
For two months, and then we were back in school, and then kids started having the opportunity to come back full time. So what I'm saying is, we have gone through our lives with routines and they become secondary and you don't have to put in the energy into figuring out what you're going to do next. You could, you know, you just know.
Amanda Forcucci 44:54
Judy Campbell 44:54
Suddenly we had to change that, and then we had to change it again. And then when we thought we had it together we had to change it again and again. And again, getting back to that mental energy, that emotional energy, all the things that we have had -- you know -- we have done routinely, routinized, not having to think about keeps getting changed, and then we had to change again. So that's part of what -- is it trauma, I don't know, but sure is stressful. And it is, it's exhausting for everybody. And so I think now, we're at a better pace, but I think all of us are waiting for the other shoe to drop --
Amanda Forcucci 45:24
Judy Campbell 45:26
to some degree and hoping it won't--
Amanda Forcucci 45:36
Judy Campbell 45:36
hoping it won't. But you know, realistically, it could.
Amanda Forcucci 45:40
Judy Campbell 45:40
So do we have to change again, and I'm sorry to hijack that. But I just -- it was so meaningful to me to think and explain to teachers who looked like they were struggling and to kids, "you don't realize how much energy is being put into just getting through your new types of days". So no--
Amanda Forcucci 45:58
No, thank you for saying that. I haven't heard that before. And as you're saying it, I'm like, "oh, yeah".
Judy Campbell 46:04
Yeah. I'll send you the article.
Amanda Forcucci and Judy Campbell 46:06
Amanda Forcucci 46:06
Ariana Davis 46:09
Sounds fascinating, and it's important for us to get that sense of where we are by looking at where we have come from, and to understand what has contributed to the problems or the importance that has been evermore so given to prioritizing mental health for teens and for adults as well. My last question for Miss Forcucci is: in your opinion, how can academic institutions adequately address and support the mental health of our youth population?
Amanda Forcucci 46:51
Okay. I think that we've touched on it a little bit already, and I think it's simple to say, but not necessarily simple to do, but I think we need to take a step back, and we need to connect as human beings. I think, again, simple to say. So what that means is taking the time out, you know, to create relationships, and not just superficial ones. Like Judy said -- I don't remember what your question was, but she talked about -- there's a lack of intimacy within, in friendships. So, I think that's important. I remember, you know, to the point where I had friendships where I just walked in the front door, I called my friend's mom "mom", and went into their fridge and just took whatever, and they did the same with with mine. You know, you take the corded phone. And you gotta wait to get through, and then if that wasn't working you just run over unannounced and just walk in, they -- nobody cared, because it was like, there was that level of relationship there, that intimacy that -- But so I think, and you know what? I want to also say that it's not, and again, it's not easy to do, because, again, what Judy mentioned: a lot of the kids are dysregulated. So depending on how old the child is, it could be exhibiting behaviors that are either problematic or just not favorable. And it's hard as a teacher or just a human being -- let's be serious, just as a human being -- to perhaps have a child in your cohort or class that is struggling or is having some, some trouble, and it comes across as a behavior issue. And when you yourself as an adult -- again, Judy said -- we're all not 100%. So to be able to put your best face on, look at a student who is a problem in class, and then take a step back and say, "Well, let me talk to him or her after class and let me really get to know him or her. And let me figure out what's going on". Because I think -- and again, I'm a parent, I get it. There's times where I don't want to talk about any-- my kid did something wrong. It's "No, I don't want to see your face. Upstairs to your room". Like, I'm not talking about it. So I get it, I get it. And when you have a class of 26 and let's say, you know, middle school age: sixth grade, fifth grade, oh my goodness. All the different changes just, you know, just body wise that they're going through. Forget about the pandemic and you throw that on top of it? You know? And 15 of the 26 have some behavior issues that's -- how does it? How does that one teacher do that? So again, easy said, I really think it does come down to the connections and the relationships because if a student starts to have a bad day or starts to act up, I think if you have a relationship or an intimate connection, sometimes the proximity of your body towards a student, when you have that connection, and you just, maybe a simple touch on the shoulder? Immediately the kid goes, "Oh, yeah, my bad". Because they respect you or they like you, they don't want to cause you harm, or they don't want to bother you, or whatever it may be. So I think I think that's important. Again, not easily done, but I think that's a big one, we have to try to make those connections. I think Stanford did a study at one point, and they found that people who are more connected to others, they have lower levels of anxiety and depression. I mean, what a concept --
Ariana Davis 50:49
Amanda Forcucci 50:49
Right? If you go a step further, the Canadian Mental Health Association even took that information and went even a step further, and being connected can also help regulate emotions. And then what I just talked about, that we see a lot of kids cannot -- are having issues regulating their emotions. So the Canadian Mental Health Association said that make those connections, they help regulate emotions, lead to higher self esteem, empathy, and actually can help improve our immune system as well. So isn't that crazy? Just the human connection?
Ariana Davis 51:23
Interesting. Mmm hmm.
Amanda Forcucci 51:24
You know, and I know we've touched upon technology, and I think technology is a wonderful way to enhance communicating and relationships. It should not replace the human connection, the looking somebody in the eye and having a conversation, hugging, shaking the hand, actually listening -- actively listening -- and maybe having somebody share something and you not saying anything about yourself, and just going "I hear you, I see you, I'm here, if you need anything." And that's a skill. Communication, communicating effectively is a skill. It's one of our standards in health education, K-12, that we work on. It looks differently between [people] depending on how old you are. It's amazing now, especially being out for two and a half years not being with other kids sitting in a group, talking to a teacher, raising your hand -- you know, at home, I don't have to -- my kid doesn't have to raise his hand to talk to me at dinner, you know? "Ma, get the ketchup."You have legs. [laughter] But like, it's just, it's a lot. It's a different animal and beast right now. But that's going to take time, because like I said, it's not just one kid that is having a little emotional issues. It's a lot. And it may not happen in a year, may not happen in two years, may not happen in three years. But again, going back to what I said before, I think, take a deep breath, I think slowly but surely, we -- again -- we got to just crawl out of this together. We have enough adults, I think. We just don't give up on the kids and we keep -- no matter how hard a kid might be. You try to connect with them, and make sure that teachers take the self care that they need as well. Because that's also -- can't keep coming to school getting beat up, so to say and then expect them to keep coming and keep trying. They also have to take their time to so that's important in trying to figure that out. How do we do that? When you have your principal saying, You know, oh my, you know, we were trying to get to the end of the year, so that we can close it. Okay, and move on. And we're, you know, and I'm sure Judy knows, because you're actually in the building, but woof! Trying to keep the building open, getting enough adults in, yet respecting the space that people need to take a mental health day and breathe, and yet keep the building running and operational? It's tough. It's tough.
Ariana Davis 53:52
Really appreciate all of the answers. And it really shows the expertise that both of you ladies have within your fields, and incorporating not only the importance of the mental health of children and adolescents, but also of our teachers, our educators who are doing so much each and every day. So I thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions in such a timely and pertinent topic, and we appreciate all that you do in shaping and guiding the impressionable minds of our young generation.
Judy Campbell 54:33
Thank you Ariana for doing this.
Ariana Davis 54:37
Judy Campbell 54:37
Appreciate the time and the ability to talk about it.
Amanda Forcucci 54:41
Well, this is helpful too, to have this platform to talk about it right?
Judy Campbell 54:44
Amanda Forcucci 54:44
Get these different ideas and thoughts out, so thank you to you and Hamden Public Library for doing this. This is amazing.
Judy Campbell 54:51
Ariana Davis 54:52
Thank you so much.
Michael Pierry 54:55
And now it's time for Mike Wheatley's movie segment.
Mike Wheatley 55:25
That was the opening for the trailer for "In the Mouth of Madness", a 1995 film by John Carpenter, a film that is a cross between Stephen King and HP Lovecraft. Mental, crazy, psycho, loony, lunatic. Every other horror movie has some escaped inmate from an asylum threatening "insert noun here": a damsel in distress, a normal suburban family. So when we chose to honor Mental Health Awareness with this month's podcast, I immediately went to Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and searched for films with mental illness as a criterion. Over 2000 films came up. Now, I love films and media, but it's obvious why so many scripts involve mental illness as part of the plot. Actors like Jack Nicholson have built careers on them with movies like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "The Shining". Some time, look up the number of films that have "mad" in the title. Directors and producers recognize the Oscar potential in films involving dramatic characters afflicted with mental illness. Films like "A Brilliant Mind", "Silver Linings Playbook", "Cuckoo's Nest", and recently "The Joker". But many professionals have been critical of Hollywood's portrayal. In 2019, in a paper called "Mental Health Conditions in Film and TV: Portrayals That Dehumanize and Trivialize Characters" on USC Annenberg.org said in conclusion: "Mass media offer a crucial window into the lives of characters. By authentically depicting the nuanced and complex way that mental health conditions intersect individuals' lives, media can introduce audiences to new ways of thinking, ways to ask for help, and ultimately create necessary shifts in our cultural beliefs about mental health. In doing so, media can cease to be an engine for stigma, and one source of solutions." I reached out to our podcast group for recommendations and got you a list. First, the obvious and sensational "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "Ordinary People", "Girl, Interrupted", "The Joker", "Fight Club", "A Brilliant Mind", "Lust for Life", "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane"-- now, I got three recommendations for that. Then the great, award winning "not sure you've heard of this": "Benny and Joon", "King of Hearts", "Snake Pit", "Harvey", "The Madness of King George". Some comedies. "I know that I shouldn't be laughing but...": "Silver Linings Playbook", "As Good As It Gets", "The Dream Team", "Lars and the Real Girl" "What About Bob?", "The Skeleton Twins" Some classics: "Autumn Leaves" (1956) starring Joan Crawford, "Three Faces of Eve" (1957) starring Joanne Woodward, "Sybil" from 1976, dramatic and award winning but based on a lie. "Snake Pit" (1948) starring Olivia de Havilland. "Bunny Lake is Missing" from 1965, starring Carol Lynley and Laurence Olivier, "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951). Some others: "Good Will Hunting", "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991). Great film, "Memento" (2000) by Christopher Nolan. "Rain Man". "Still Alice", dealing with Alzheimer's. "Smashed", dealing with addiction, specifically alcoholism "It's Kind of a Funny Story", with depression, suicidal tendencies. "American Psycho", "Wrist-cutters: A Love Story" which is based on a graphic novel. And two animated films, both Disney: "Inside Out", "Finding Nemo". I would like to personally recommend two films, "David and Lisa" from 1962, which is an early film by Frank Perry, a brilliant, underappreciated director who went on to do "The Swimmer" with Burt Lancaster, "Diary of a Mad Housewife" and the cult hit "Mommy Dearest" with Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford. "Teenager David Clemens, played by a very young Keir Dullea of "2001" [A Space Odyssey] fame, develops a hysterical fear that he will die if he comes into physical contact with another person. David's overbearing mother places him in a home for mentally disturbed young people, where he meets Lisa, played by Janet Margolin, who was in turn loving, and speaks in rhyme and shifts to another more violent personality named Muriel when threatened". The film is a character driven and unconventional love story that does not demonize mental illness. Also, "Ordinary People", directed by Robert Redford in 1980 and starring Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The film also won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay from the best selling Judith Guest novel. This is a great film about the effects of mental illness and loss on a normal family. For me the direction and the acting, especially Mary Tyler Moore in a dramatic role, was very moving. Since April was Autism Awareness Month and I didn't get any film recommendations. Here is one fictional film and a couple of great documentaries with autism as a theme. "Autism: The Musical": you read that right. It's a documentary, all right, but it's a documentary about a musical put on in part by five kids with autism and their parents. The Miracle Project was created to help children with autism learn to express themselves while learning to socialize with others. The technique: using the creative process found while taking part in a theatrical workshop to stage a musical. As the kids write and rehearse their original stage production, the cameras follow them and their parents over six months, showing both strife and triumph. Another documentary, "Life Animated." This Academy Award-nominated documentary explores the story of Owen Suskind through a unique lens: animation. Owen, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of three when he stopped speaking, found a route back to verbal communication through his own ASD informed obsession: animated Disney films. By immersing themselves in those same movies, his parents found a path to communicate with Owen. As Owen regained his speech, he also found himself with a story to tell: "The Land of Lost Sidekicks", mirroring his own path. Suskind provides the only narration to the film, which consists of live videos of him and an animated version of the story. Recently, "The Peanut Butter Falcon" from 2019: an adventure story set in the world of a modern Mark Twain that begins when Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome, runs away from the nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler by attending the wrestling school, the Salt Water Redneck. Through circumstances beyond their control Tyler, a small time outlaw on the run, becomes Zach's unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whiskey, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor, a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own, to join them on their journey. So the films I'm recommending this month are "David and Lisa" from 1962, "Ordinary People" from 1980, "Best Boy/Best Man" from 1979 and 1999, "Autism: the Musical" from 2007, and "The Peanut Butter Falcon" from 2019. And as Zak from "Peanut Butter Falcon" would say...
Ariana Davis 1:04:58
Sophia Moscariello has developed and implemented programs and services for people who have been marginalized due to various factors such as unemployment, disabilities, homelessness, mental illness, substance use, and etc. Her career spans over 40 years. For the last 12 years, she has worked with Liberty Community Services Incorporated in New Haven to prevent and end homelessness through a range of services. Thank you, Miss Sylvia, for joining us today.
Sylvia Moscariello 1:05:29
Thank you, Ariana.
Ariana Davis 1:05:30
My first question for you is, if you can please share with our listeners the mission of Liberty Community Services, as well as the story behind its partnership with local libraries.
Sylvia Moscariello 1:05:42
Liberty Community Services' focus mission is to -- I mean, if I were to just boil it down -- it's to prevent and end homelessness. And our focus is Greater New Haven. And we've been around since 1987. We were born during the AIDS epidemic, when people who acquired AIDS were basically ostracized, and, you know, Dr. Fauci might have been one of the first doctors who start demystifying that you can't catch it by touching someone. And it's interesting that the whole world knows Dr. Fauci's name now. But we know, those of us in the HIV field have known him forever. But at the time, there was a group of people in New Haven who knew -- they were faith based, social service based students who were experiencing and finding people who had AIDS, and they were dying in the streets, basically. They had nowhere to be. So they're experiencing homelessness and illness, and just not being connected. So they got together, and they, you know, with a volunteer group got together and founded an organization that was called Connecticut AIDS Residence Program, now Liberty Community Services, but it was established in 1987 to provide dignity, support home and care to the people that they had found. And that became our organization. So you can see the intersection already with homelessness, and the intersection with marginalization. And what ended up happening was, our mission was very focused on HIV, and it made our organization -- it really impacted our culture of our organization to see everybody with a, you know, the most, the widest arms to embrace them. And the mission changed. I was not working at Liberty at the time. But I was working at a partner organization and worked very closely with the executive director at the time. And we worked together on what was called a Super NOFA, a Super Notification of Funding Availability from HUD. And money was being set aside by the Secretary of HUD at that time. And it was to create -- to really start focusing on homelessness. So Liberty was one of nine organizations in Connecticut, in New Haven, that applied for funds through a collaborative application. And all of our organizations get funding, we brought in a lot of money. And that created one of our buildings called Safe Haven, which is 33 apartment units: studios that are for people who have who have experienced homelessness, chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness is people who've been homeless for a certain period of time, who have a disability, and that disability was HIV, a substance use disorder, mental illness and/or all of them together, or any combination thereof. So when you start doing housing, you know, our first housing was that one house that was for people who were very, very ill with HIV and AIDS, it was at the time. And then this was for folks who had been on the streets for a while and had other issues going on. And remember, at the same time, HIV treatment is progressing. People at the very beginning in the 80s were dying from AIDS. In the 90s, there were different treatments starting to happen. And they weren't great yet, but in about '96 started to show more promise. And then we get into the 2000s and I know you heard different things about different treatments, and ultimately, by about 2010, we're at great success with people living. So now what's your response to services? You're no longer just making people comfortable, but your service plans look a lot more interesting now. You're looking at jobs, you're looking at other things. Well we kept working on that. At the same time -- this is when I come into the picture. In 2010 I came here and I like to have my fingers in everything. And we started to really focus on employment and outreach. So you can't really serve a person and housing only without knowing them. So by outreaching people while they're in crisis, you can bring them through, get them connected to care, get them connected to other providers, basic needs, benefits, things like that, as you are finding housing. So that was a really big effort we had that, again, changed our organization, our first step in outreach. And then we got a call from the library. And it was very spec-- from the New Haven Library, from the, I think it was the head librarian. It might have been the Director of Library Services. I don't want to give her short shrift, but she's a really wonderful woman. And she reached out to us and said, Can you come here? Our staff is really, really stressed. We know that people need a place to go in the day, we know that it's cold out or it's hot out or there's nowhere to sit, there's nowhere to be. Folks are homeless, our patrons are homeless, and we don't want them to feel uncomfortable but we want to help them while they're here. And there have been some crises here. We've ultimately had to call 211. Like people experiencing trauma could sometimes have a reaction when they see nowhere to go. They don't see what they can do. And they feel frustrated. And, and trauma does that to people, not just people experiencing homelessness, but it has an effect on people. So we talked about it. And I'm like, all I could think about was "just let me be there for a few minutes. I'll help them. I know what they can do". And what we set up was, we asked when the worst days were and they said Mondays and Fridays. So we'd put office hours in: one hour Mondays, one hour Fridays where I would go to the library, and I would meet with people, start finding out what people needed. And we didn't want to stigmatize anyone by saying, hey, homeless services are here now. So we used to have an announcement when we came in that said, "a representative from Liberty Community Services is here to help you with any questions you might have about housing, employment, health care, social services, anything like that. And they are located here. They are here until such and such a time, first come first served." Well, people got to know that we were going to be there. And sometimes we would say to people, when they called us, "I'll be at the library on Friday, let me see you then". And it was really powerful. The staff experienced that they had something to give, like if a person asked them a question that they could not answer they could say, "Oh, someone's going to be here on Monday at 12". Or "someone's going to be here Friday at 4", and they felt, like, a relief from that. So that's how it started in 2014. Across the country, having embedded social workers in libraries started to be -- you could start reading literature about it emerging. And there were some cities that were leading the way. I think Philadelphia might have been one, Los Angeles. So we were here in New Haven starting that. And as time went on those two hours a week became what they are today, which is a full time staff person, Monday through Fridays, 35 hours a week at the Main Library, Ives on Elm Street in New Haven. And then we are just launching two -- well, we've gone to the branches before, but we're launching hours at two of the branches, once a week each. So we'll be having a social, a caseworker there. And I'm actually going to start training her next week.
Ariana Davis 1:14:46
Wow, thank you so much, Miss Sylvia for explaining the background of Liberty Community Services as well as the work that is now being done with New Haven Free Public Library. Thank you. My next question is: in your opinion, why are libraries effective places to offer social and mental health services to the community?
Sylvia Moscariello 1:15:11
Oh, my goodness, it is because people are there. They're not -- it is such a wonderful place. When people are in the library, they're patrons, they're not clients. They're not patients. There's no stigma you -- everybody's on equal footing when they come in the library. And the library -- I know that New Haven assertively welcomes everyone, and they are always educating themselves to be a welcoming environment for everyone, as well as maintaining the balance. Remember, some of the folks we have are carrying all their belongings on their backs. And libraries typically don't have a place where you can put a suitcase and things like that. But we are, you know, this is something that we work on collaborating on, and the library director and some of the other staff are very active in our homeless response system in New Haven. But why the library is a place to engage with people? It's a place that is quiet. It's comfortable. It's a place where you get information when you need information. People know there's someone who has to help you. It's public, it belongs to all of us. You know, we all have a right to be there. And for us, we started doing -- I remember way back when we were doing HIV testing in the early like 2012-13, till about 2016, maybe 17. We were doing HIV testing, and we used to do it at the library. We would do outreach events there, because people are there, they see the signs, they'll come back, they'll -- we'll do special events to engage people on things. They show up, you get your folks, that's where they are. Remember, Ives is downtown on the green. Yours, I believe, is right downtown as well in Hamden. So you've got places where people are, there's pedestrians, and there's other things going on around that make people say, "I'm going to stop in over there", or "that's a good place to go". And we've done some work to provide resources to library staff too so they have information. And I think that it works out pretty well.
Ariana Davis 1:17:39
Wonderful, that's wonderful. What makes the work of library-stationed social workers unique?
Sylvia Moscariello 1:17:47
Oh, they have to be -- they can't be specialists. They have to be generalists. They have to be able to respond to everything. And we're not going to turn away anybody. We're there. Our purpose in our head is to reach out to people who are the most in need, the most vulnerable. And for us, it's people who are experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, things like that. That's what we're looking for. However, you know, I told you specifically how we do our announcement, which is basically welcoming everybody. I remember when I was there, and you know, Google's my best friend. And anybody I know who's ever -- I keep a phone with every name in it, that I've ever met of anyone. And I was there one time, and after we made the announcement, I'd seen this lovely woman come in with a with a baby stroller. And she was an Asian woman. And I said, "How can I help you?" She said -- she had a thick accent, and she said that she was looking for an apartment, and that her husband was a professor at Yale, and what would be really helpful is if she could please find a Chinese-speaking real estate agent. And so I found her one. I called a couple people, and I looked on Google just to see if maybe there was a specific real estate agency that had Chinese names. And then I called somebody I knew who was a real estate agent who gave me the name of someone, and I gave that to her and they went and found an apartment. So you have to be able to do something like that. That is not a person who's marginalized. However, they're having a big obstacle to housing: the language. And you have to be able to just, you know, again, meet people where they are, listen to the things they're saying. And you really don't -- you, you really can't be a specialist. You have to be a generalist, and you have to be -- what's really important is to collect resources.
Ariana Davis 1:19:46
Thank you for going into depth into that and in the important qualifications of the work of social workers that libraries many public libraries likely have to contend with. With the issue of sufficient funding to support their social service partnerships, what advice would you give to help them view this as a hurdle and not as a dead end?
Sylvia Moscariello 1:20:13
You know, we're still challenged with the funding. It's opportunistic, basically. We are -- the director of the library is always looking for opportunities, and he will pitch something to me like "I see this grant, that's this, can we do a little of this to make sure because they want to pay library outreach, for sharing a software about health care?" Well, that fits in with what we do, we're always talking about health care, we can share that. If that pays for us to be here with patrons, we'll integrate that. So you have to be nimble a little bit and be very flexible on those things. At the same time, the city of New Haven saw it as valuable enough to put some funding in through one of their regular fundings and we apply every year for money. It's not a dependable amount of money, but it's something, and this year, the library director secured a grant that is related to COVID. You know, it was a CARES Act grant, and we are able to demonstrate just how crucial it is to have a full time person there. It'll be very hard to back that off when that funding ends. So I think that we're demonstrating our importance and just how important we are and how it can't end. So we'll see, we'll see what happens. But it is a constant process, we've gone from two hours a week to 12 hours a week, to 20 hours a week, to -- whenever we have outreach money, if I can put a couple hours of my staff, through our outreach grants at the library, to kind of cobble together coverage, we'll do that. But this is the first time we have a dedicated, full time, one person, which is great. And it's so much better. She is, you know, she learns so much every day. And I know that she loves it.
Ariana Davis 1:22:18
And my last question is: how can our local community better support the mental health and social services that are needed and are offered through public libraries?
Sylvia Moscariello 1:22:29
I think what's the most important thing is to have -- well see, remember, this is all in the vein of literacy. It's learning about services. Everything that happens in the library is about achieving literacy about one subject or another, and so I always look at it as an offering there. Having the staff know more is always important -- the library staff. But it's also important when you have -- if a library -- Don't you have a specialist in a certain different sections of the library? And I'm sure that when a person over in -- see, I don't know what all your specialists are. I think some are tech, some are tech and some are research, maybe general information. Things like that. But I know they rely on each other to solve problems as things come up, and what the public should know is that by investing in this, which is a relatively small investment, you can eliminate a lot of other costs and problems in other areas. Like if you can do-- I'll give you a for instance: when I was at the library, the first couple years, anytime a waitlist opened for housing through the housing authorities anywhere in the state, I would immediately let the staff know that and every patron that I saw know that and I would help them fill out an application. And what I used -- I think I remember one hour one time that I was there, we did 17 applications, like that's how fast I got at that, boom, boom, boom. And I remember over the next couple months, people would come in and say, "I got one, I got mine, I got mine, I'm moving into my apartment". I'd be like, "Wow. That is, like, an amazing investment. That person is housed through this little 17 people in an hour." So the return on investment is very, very high. Or connecting people with health care, and you know, recognizing when the mental health problem is a lot more than a little bit of anxiety, but when they really need to be guided to get to care and knowing the resources in the area. So the library is the place where you can navigate people to what they really need. This is a starting point and I think that that's, you know, that's it's that's the way it functions. Helping you find, through the Dewey Decimal System --isn't that what it was?
Ariana Davis 1:25:13
Sylvia Moscariello 1:25:14
Where your book is.
Ariana Davis 1:25:17
Well, thank you so much Miss Sylvia for not only for your time, but for your work, for your passion, and also for your dedication to the needs of many in our community.
Sylvia Moscariello 1:25:30
Well, Ariana, thank you for inviting me. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to more interactions with Hamden. Thank you. Thank you.
Michael Pierry 1:25:40
That's all the time we have for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. Please like and subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Next month we'll be getting outdoors with great outdoors month, national trails day and No Child Left Inside. See you next time.
Alyssa Bussard 1:25:55
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a confidential crisis service that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call 1-800-273-8255 or text "Hello" to 741741. Please visit our blog for more resources regarding health for mental illness.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai