CUSD Cares

NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness) Resources for Parents and Caregivers

February 28, 2020 Brenda Vargas Season 1 Episode 17
CUSD Cares
NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness) Resources for Parents and Caregivers
Show Notes Transcript

Brenda Vargas, Director of Counseling and Social Services, speaks with Tracy Sloat,
Executive Director and representative of NAMI working with the Valley of the Sun, a local affiliate of the national organization, who shares the many resources available through NAMI that include free classes for parents as well as online options. This conversation also includes a student perspective by a college student named Haley, who shares her personal struggle with mental illness.

Brenda Vargas:

Hello parents and welcome to another episode of CUSD Cares podcast. This is Brenda Vargas. I am really pleased to have with us today the representative for the National Association of Mental Illness,Tracy Sloat. Tracy, welcome to CUSD Cares podcast. This is a podcast for parents, so I know there is incredible information that NAMI has. That's the acronym. Welcome.

Tracy Sloat :

Thank you. It's good to be here.

Brenda Vargas:

Well, I am really pleased that you're able to join us today. I think it's important for parents to understand a little bit about your background. I know you have a nursing background in addition to the work that you do with NAMI. If you don't mind just sharing a bit.

Tracy Sloat :

Sure. I work with NAMI Valley of the Sun. W e're the local affiliate of the national organization. And the mission statement for NAMI Valley of the Sun is that we want to improve the quality of life for people with mental illness and their families through support, education and advocacy. And I came to NAMI a few years ago. I have a 17 year old who has bipolar disorder and all through his early childhood and early adolescence we were dealing with something that we didn't know what it was and when he was about 11 we started hearing the word bipolar disorder and started to really understand what that meant. And NAMI provides support for families who are going through these type of situations. And so that's kind of how I got connected with NAMI. And then for the last year and a half I've been there part time Executive Director and working with all the different types of amazing programs that we do that you can find at our website, NAMI Valley of the Sun.org.

Brenda Vargas:

I know that when dealing with family members, and I'm going to give it that general perspective, cause it's not just youth, it may not be just your son or daughter, it could be anybody that you're connected to in your life that is a loved one. It can be a pretty scary experience. And sometimes where do we begin is often the question right as you have to deal with the day to day, right? What's the most pressing concern. But NAMI has such incredible resources. And I know we'll get into that, but I know you brought someone with you to join us today and I think her story is going to help gauge for parents and maybe give them some insight. So I'll let you introduce.

Tracy Sloat :

Absolutely. So I have with us today, Haley , she is a senior at Grand Canyon University studying communications and will be graduating in May.

Brenda Vargas:

Congratulations.

Haley:

Thank you. Very scary.

Tracy Sloat :

So Haley grew right up here in the East Valley and she's going to tell her story of what it was like growing up with a mental health condition, including what that was like for her in high school. And she is one of our volunteers for a NAMI Valley of the Sun and she goes into high schools with a program we have called NAMI- Ending the Silence- and she tells her story. And so she's going to share that story with us now.

Haley:

Yeah. so my journey with a mental health condition began in high school, so hopefully this can help parents kind of get a perspective of what their kid might be going through or their kid's friends or something like that. But when I was around 14 years old, I started having really severe panic attacks and I had been having them all throughout my eighth grade year during the night, which is really unusual. But then freshman year it really started to impede my day to day activity. Didn't really know what a panic attack was at the time. I just knew the symptoms. I knew that my heart was racing uncontrollably. I would be shaking, I'd feel like I was freezing and like my body was on fire. I would get really sick to my stomach and it would get so bad that I would think like, I need to go to the emergency room. I am dying. And that's what I would tell my mom.

Brenda Vargas:

Did you really think you were dying?

Haley:

Yeah, It was to the point just with the heart racing and everything that I was like, mom, like we need to go to the emergency room. I'm not okay. But she knew what was going on somewhat. And so she was able to kind of comfort me and calm me down in that. But yeah, it's such a physical experience that it really does kind of feel like you're having a heart attack or that something is like seriously wrong with you physically.

Brenda Vargas:

Thank you for highlighting that because I think that's an important piece for parents to know, as their son or daughter or someone that they love is sharing what's actually transpiring physically with their body and what they're feeling like.

Haley:

There's such a connection between the physical body. Um, yeah. So I'd been having panic attacks and my mom, like I said, she knew what was happening. She knew how to comfort me and she was a really big advocate for me when I started getting help, which I'm so grateful to her for. But I stopped going to school at that time. Actually I missed my entire first semester of my freshman year of high school because I was just so paralyzed by anxiety that I couldn't get out of the car. We would drive up to my school every single day and I would just sit there like I physically could not go inside. I felt really trapped in my head all of the time. Like I would sit at the kitchen table at night and I just couldn't go to bed because I was so scared to be alone with my own thoughts and sleep. I really couldn't eat at the time either. Just the thought of food made me sick and getting out of bed each morning was just a really big struggle for me at the time. It felt really pointless. So I felt so overwhelmed that getting out of bed just didn't feel worth it at that time. And when I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, my first thought was that I was being punished somehow because there is that stigma and I thought because I put a lot of my worth in other people that I thought that this was kind of this confirmation that I wasn't good enough or that this was some huge shortcoming I had and I felt really isolated in that. Like nobody understood what I was going through. I felt really alone, and I felt really ashamed and I felt very hopeless. So I couldn't imagine leaving the house, let alone going to college and getting a job and being an adult. Like I just felt like I can't even go to school. How am I somehow someday going to have to be a functioning adult. And I thought that people were going to judge me at school or maybe treat me differently if they knew. So I hid it a lot in the beginning. I thought that therapy was for people who had problems and I thought that no one normal went to therapy, which is not true at all. So many people go to therapy and it's really amazing. It's been a huge blessing in my life and I just didn't have prior knowledge of mental health condition . So it was very foreign to me in a very scary concept. And my mom, like I said, I mentioned her before. She was actually the one who helped me take those first steps to recovery. And so I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. But for me it kind of felt like a weight was lifted in a way because now I had this name for what I was going through and experiencing. And even though it was really scary because like I said, it was foreign, there was a certain amount of freedom in that. And one of the first steps that I took was finding a good doctor. I found a good doctor who looked at me as a whole person. Like I mentioned the physical t ie i ns before. So I went through a lot of testing to discover some of the physical components that were affecting my mental health. So I found out that I had a thyroid problem and different vitamin deficiencies and I had to make a lot of changes in my diet, cause I was having some stomach problems, which is also tied into anxiety. So all those factors were playing into how I was feeling. And so even making those small physical changes in the beginning helped me to feel better. But I think ultimately for me the most important part of recovery was therapy. Even though I really hated it at first. The first few times I went, I was like, mom, I'm not going back. Like you c annot make me go back. I hate this just because t here can be a lot of emotional labor I think. But through cognitive behavioral therapy I was able to develop tools to manage my anxiety. So I did things like breathing exercises or muscle relaxation and visualization or positive self talk and practicing balancing and replacing those negative or irrational thoughts that I was having. And because of that I was slowly able to return to school just one hour at a time each day because of those tools. And then the last step for me was trying medication, which I was very hesitant to try for a long time just because like the commercials we all see, they put really scary warnings on it and I just didn't want anything to get worse. But I finally, with my doctor, with my therapist, made the decision to try medication and I've been on it ever since, w hich i s about seven years now. I t just gave me that little extra push that I needed in combination with therapy and with managing my physical health to fully return to school and resume all of my normal activities again. And I really learned during that time to pay attention to what my body and brain were telling me and to speak up if something felt o ff o r if I just didn't feel like myself. And then in addition to formal treatments, I started practicing yoga and journaling; yoga w as huge for me. I just started watching YouTube videos and following along that way. But it just took me out of my head and into the present moment, which is something that can be very hard when you are dealing with anxiety. And then every day I would write down three things that I was thankful for, which sounds really cliche and cheesy, but it helped me focus on all the good things in my life. And it kept reminding me that th ere's s o many reasons to fight for recovery and it's seven years later. And I still do that every single night before I g o to bed. And I also learned different things about myself. Like I fu nction b est with a routine. Spontaneity is not my thing. And that's okay, which is something I've especially had to learn in college, but that's fine.I can be different than everyone else an d f unction in a d ifferent way and that's ok ay. And I learned to be more mindful of my sleeping and eating habits as well, just because I think routines are so important in recovery. And then I finally, finally started talking about it, which was one of the most helpful steps for me. I started learning about my family history with mental illness and I started to rely on my family a lot more. And then I finally started sharing what was going on with my friends, which wa s a big step for me. And once I did that, I realized that I really didn't have a reason to feel ashamed. I was met with a lot of acceptance and I really learned who my true friends were that stuck with me at that time. Once I brought my diagnosis into the light, the shame was lifted because it wasn't something I was hiding anymore. And I began to realize that we're not alone, that everyone is facing their own struggles and has their own stories. Even that might not be with a mental health condition, but everyone is f acing something in their life. So it really taught me the importance of compassion and empathy, which I know can sometimes be lacking in a high school setting. So I'm grateful for that perspective. Throughout my journey to recovery, I found strength in my diagnosis. An xiety's a lways going to be a part of me, of course, but it doesn't define me or limit me. I fought really hard to get where I am today and I co uld h a ve n ever imagined the success and happiness that I would find along the way. Today, like Tracy said, I'm attending college and serving in a leadership position at GCU. I am pursuing my dream of working at a nonprofit and I have a job I absolutely love. I have really amazing friends and I've learned what's truly important to me. I graduate in a semester, which is really scary. But I'm planning to get my ma ster's i n social work so I can keep advocating for better mental health education be cause I feel like that's something that I didn't get in high school and I want to help others get access and let people know that they're not alone and that there is hope and that recovery is possible and it's an ongoing process. Even now, th ere a r e s till hard days. Like I said, it's been seven years, but I faced a huge setback in my recovery when I started college just because it's such a big transition period. But I was able to draw on those tools that I had developed from earlier on and draw on that strength that I knew I had within me. I mean, even today, sometimes getting out of bed is a success. Sometimes that's the biggest and most important thing I'll do in a day, but that's okay. I still celebrate that. I'v e re ally learned to celebrate those small things. Success doesn't have to be this huge monumental event for me. It can be letting a friend know, Hey, I'm not doing great right now. Can we talk? I can be making the choice to go out with friends. Even when I would rather hide under my covers and isolate myself. It ca n be saying no when I've overextended myself, it can be making myself a healthy meal or going to the gym even when I don't feel like it because I know it will make me feel better. It can be going to class after I've had a rough night with anxiety or it can be taking a nap because I know my body needs it. Success, I think comes in a lot of different forms, but every baby step is a step to be celebrated, I think. And because of my journey, I now know my own strength and what I'm capable of. I know that I've made it through before and I will make it through again. What I once viewed as my greatest weakness is now what I con sider to be one of my greatest strengths. And it really has shaped me into the person that I've become today.

Brenda Vargas:

Haley , you took my breath away because I feel so incredibly honored that you decided to have the courage today to join us and share your story with us. It's such a personal journey for individuals that are going through their own struggle. So thank you kindly for, for being here and sharing a part of who you are and , what your journey has looked like. I hope, and I know that parents that are listening might find something that you've shared that is going to have an impact on their life and possibly even just cause them to take a deeper look within someone they love. But you have certainly grown and had a lot of learning. And just the fact, you redefining what success looks like sometimes we have this idea in our society as to what it is and it can be that simple.

Haley:

Yeah, definitely.

Brenda Vargas:

And to celebrate those moments. So thank you for saying that. That was the rawness behind your story and your journey and what you've done and what you've been able to accomplish. I commend you.

Haley:

Thank you.

Brenda Vargas:

I commend you. You are going to be an amazing social worker.

Haley:

Thank you for letting me share.

Brenda Vargas:

Of course, of course. Tracy, incredible gratitude I have for you, bringing Haley to us and sharing. I know that we want to springboard at what her story has been and how NAMI really tries to provide resources for parents that are on this journey with their children or if they're a caregiver, even if they're not a parent , you know, if it's someone they love. Talk to us about the resources that NAMI has.

Tracy Sloat :

So one of the things at NAMI that we really want to get out there in a message, and this was really integrated through Haley's story, is that we want families and individuals to know that they are not alone. And what we find is that living with a mental health condition, whether it's a child or an adult, is a very isolating experience. And we want that to not be the case any longer. So for youth, we know that one in six youth- aged six to 17 years old-experience a mental health condition. And we also know that 50% of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 74% by age 24. We know that almost half of youth who have a mental health challenge are not receiving treatment. And we want that to change. As you heard from Haley's story, how it was such a pivot for her in her ability in her recovery was to get that treatment, whatever that looks like.

Brenda Vargas:

And Tracy, if I could interrupt you real quick. We teach youth mental health first aid. We're offering community and parent classes for anyone that is interested. One of the things that I learned as a trainer for some individuals it can take them on average up to 10 years before they seek any type of treatment. Parents, I want you to just take a pause moment. If we had something, a physical ailment and we waited 10 years to address that obviously it would be chronic and in some cases fatal. But the fact that we're waiting on average 10 years to do something about a mental health concern, it's mind blowing.

Tracy Sloat :

It is. And that statistic is right on. That really is what they're finding and what we know as with any condition, whether it's diabetes or whether it's anxiety, early intervention has the best long-term outcome. Just like you said, Brenda, when you leave things untreated, they typically snowball and end up getting worse or more difficult to treat later on. So one of the things we want to highlight just briefly too, is just a kind of revisit, what do we mean by a mental health condition or a mental illness or a mental health challenge? We kind of use these phrases for this same thing and basically we're talking about any condition that affects a person's thinking, their mood or their feeling. And when those conditions get to the point where they affect their ability to be able to do things you would normally do throughout the day, that's when we really need to start thinking about having an intervention and we could talk another time about what that looks like. There's all different ways to help improve your mood and your thinking and your feeling and Haley highlighted some of them and for every person that's going to look a different. One of the things that we have at NAMI that we're really excited to talk about is an online program for free that we have for parents and it is called NAMI Basics on Demand. Any person can log on to the NAMI website, nami.org and you find the NAMI basics and there's a link and you can register online at home in your pajamas at 10 o'clock at night and take a six course module that is designed for parents and caregivers of youth and adolescents who live with a mental illness or a mental health condition. The topics that are covered are things like the impact a mental health condition can have on your entire family. Different types of mental health care , different types of mental health care professionals, available treatment options and therapies. It overviews the public mental health system, helps you navigate through resources, helps you learn how to advocate for your child's rights at school and in the healthcare setting. And it helps you to know how to prepare and respond to crisis situations. We know that we do have epidemics of self-harming of our youth who are really trying to manage their emotions and how they're feeling. And this module course will kind of help you as a parent know how to address that.

Brenda Vargas:

Are these free Tracy ?

Tracy Sloat :

They are free. It is online. It is free. And I think that the feedback that we're getting so far is that these have been really transformational. We also offer this class in person and four times a year it's a six week class, which we found is sometimes hard for parents to get away and take a six week class; two hours for six weeks. So this is why it now has come out online because it's more important just that the information gets out there.

Brenda Vargas:

So I know you just mentioned quite a bit of opportunities for parents and caregivers and any community member to take additional courses. What other resources, if we were to go to your website, what else is available other than those courses that you just named Tracy?

Tracy Sloat :

So at our website, namivalleyofthesun.org (NAMI Valley of the sun.org) you'll find the programs that we offer within the Valley, all of our programs at NAMI are free to the public and to anybody who is in need for the particular program that we offer. We have support groups, we have family support groups for family members who have a loved one who are living with a mental health condition. And again, really what we find with the support groups is it takes people out of isolation and puts them in a group of individuals who have similar experiences and situations and they can share their stories. We have classes similar to the basics class. We have one that's called Family To Family and it's if your family member who has a mental health condition is an adult, this is an eight to 12 week course that helps you learn how to navigate living with a family member who is an adult who has a mental illness. We also do community presentations, different ones for example, like the one Haley does with Ending The Silence that is in high schools and we do some in the community called In Our Own Voice. We have two individuals who live with a mental health condition and they tell their stories similar to Haley's in terms of what it was like to be diagnosed with a mental illness. How did they find help and treatment and how did they get to a place of recovery in their life where they could be their absolute best person. So those are the kinds of things that you will find on our website and you can also call our office at any time. Our number is (602) 244-8166 and we would be more than happy to talk with you and also to connect you with other community resources that we don't offer that might be a benefit to you.

Brenda Vargas:

Thank you so much for that Tracy. It's really important if you're dealing with a crisis like situation, especially somebody with thoughts of suicide. And I just want to briefly go over just a few warning signs, for those of you that are tuned in, that if this individual that you care about is feeling trapped, withdrawing from friends and family, increased anxiousness, agitation or inability to sleep, increased mood swings or depression, that feeling of hopelessness or helplessness, wanting to hurt yourself or others looking for ways to hurt or kill yourself by seeking weapons, pills or other means. Feeling rage or seeking revenge, talking about being a burden to others, using an i ncrease amount of alcohol or drug use. Again, these are not the only warning signs; these are probably common warning signs that would cause us as a caregiver or a loved one to be concerned about someone that might be having thoughts of suicide. I want to share with you a Crisis Hotline number that can be reached. 24/7; obviously 911 is the most go-to, if you need help. But the Crisis Hotline- Suicide Hotline number is (602) 222-9444 again (6 0 2) 222-94 44 and I don't know if you, Tracy, have anything additional that you would like to add?

Tracy Sloat :

What I would like to say though about that crisis response line, the (602) 222-9444 is that I have called that number on several occasions and they have really been beneficial and helped our family to the point of coming to our home and helping our son get through his crisis that he was in the moment. And I can't say enough about the message that I've heard the most about this number is we wait too long to call it. So even if your just not sure, is this a crisis, is it not? I don't know what to do. Where do I go with this before it escalates, call the number and they will tell you what level of intervention you need or what you should do next.

Brenda Vargas:

That's the best advice I think that parents are receiving in this podcast right before it even possibly becomes a really high level crisis. Reach out. You know, that's why we have these structures in place to be able to really help others in our community get through this as we know it can be very difficult and challenging and scary. H aley, your s tory's incredibly powerful. I am so pleased that you were able to join us and sharing your journey, and parents hearing from even if your child or person that you love is not in this particular circumstance. I think just having some insight of what that was like for you and the fact that it is a journey that you know it's a part of you but it doesn't define you. If you could have one last, I guess piece of advice for parents or caregivers listening on our podcast, what would you want them to know before as we wrap up? I should say,

Haley:

I think there's two things. I would say the first is if your child is struggling , ask them what they need instead of telling them what they need. Because I think that sometimes, I mean even with my friends, like I think sometimes we think we know how to quote unquote fix other people and we know what they need, but we, in reality, we need to ask them and see what works for them. So for me, one of the most helpful things, just going off to college or some of the times in high school, if I was on a trip or something, was just my mom asking do you want me to sleep with my phone next to my bed? And she would sleep with her phone there in case I had a panic attack in the middle of the night or needed to talk through something. And that was really helpful. Just her asking what do you need from me? How can I support you instead of just trying to force her own way, I guess, i n what she thought I needed. And then the second thing is just that for me, having a support system has been so, so important. So just being there for your child I mean, anyone w ho's listening to this podcast obviously wants to do that. I hope t hat parents know how important that is and how appreciated it is. I'm so grateful to my mom for everything she's done for me and for honestly my whole family, which I know that's not the case for everyone. Not everyone has a family w ho i s accepting of it or supportive. But my family has been so incredible in just being there for me to fall back on. So I hope that people know how much we appreciate our parents and our families and the people advocating for us. And just to keep doing that. Loving, unconditionally, being empathetic, even if you don't necessarily understand what your kid is going through, but just extending that empathy is so important.

Brenda Vargas:

Thank you, Haley . And to our parents and community members listening, I just want you to know you're not alone. We as a district are here to support and guide you, and we have amazing organizations in our community that allow us to connect you to more supports beyond the structure of a school and what we can provide. We know this is something that, as a community, we need to help see each other through. So thank you for tuning into another CUSD Cares podcast, and we'll see you again.