2019 A Celebration of Life: Philadelphia an Historic Success!

On Thursday, May 9, 2019, over 500 people gathered in Philadelphia for the fourth annual A Celebration of Life: Philadelphia. Led by an all-volunteer committee of Minding Your Mind’s Young Professionals Board and friends, this year’s event was the most well-attended and charitable to date, with all proceeds funding mental health education and suicide prevention programs in the greater Philadelphia region. Chairperson Matt Robinson welcomed attendees and discussed the history of Minding Your Mind as well as the purpose of A Celebration of Life. He presented the 2019 Emerging Minds Award to Jessica Griffin and Tim Griffin of The Be Kind. Always. Foundation. Established in memory of their younger brother, Stephen, who lost his life to depression at the age of 19, The Be Kind. Always. Foundation works to promote kindness among youth through schools and community activities. The profits from their clothing line, D.O.P.E. Dare to Offer Peace to Everyone, fund programs that focus on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide.

A Celebration of Life: Philadelphia chairperson, Matt Robinson

Tim Griffin and Jessica Griffin of The Be Kind. Always. Foundation, 2019 Emerging Minds Award recipients.

Those gathered spent the remainder of the evening dancing to music from The International DJ Casper and celebrating life.

Kyle Craig

A Celebration of Life began in 2011 to honor the memory of Kyle Craig, a 21-year-old student at Vanderbilt University who took his life in May of 2010. Kyle was a dynamic friend to many; a bright, handsome, and gifted individual across music and athletics, but whose strength of character enabled his growing struggles to be hidden from view. In the nine years since it began in Nashville, this annual event has expanded to New York and Philadelphia, engaging more than 3,000 young professionals in the service of suicide prevention and mental health awareness. For more information on A Celebration of Life: Philadelphia or the Minding Your Mind Young Professionals Board, please contact Maura Wheeler at maura@mindingyourmind.org.

Please enjoy and share the photos from the festivities!

2019 A Celebration of Life: Philadelphia
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Middle School Students Study Mental Health

By Jordan Burnham

In December of 2018, Minding Your Mind’s young adult speaker and director of student engagement, Jordan Burnham, was interviewed by a small group of students from Radnor Middle School (PA) who were doing research for a report on mental health. The students, Olivia Brubaker, Pablo Strid, Lyla Wallis, and Mathew Wolfington, are enrolled in Soundings, an integrated learning program that challenges eighth graders to explore student-selected themes that merge their adolescent concerns with global issues.  Olivia, Pablo, Lyla, and Mathew chose mental health in order to discover why there is still stigma surrounding it today.

With the goal of gaining insight from someone who speaks on his story and works in mental health advocacy as well, the students were prepared with over 30 questions covering a variety of topics. Jordan said it was one of the most professional and organized interviews he’s had the opportunity to participate in.

As the interview started, Mathew Wolfington laid down a voice recorder, while each student had a pencil, notepad, and took turns asking questions. When the students asked if he had ever had a group bring him in and conduct a full interview, Jordan said, “no, this is definitely my first being interviewed like this, and it’s awesome.” The students looked up from their notes, smiled at each other, and nodded their approval

On January 8, 2019, the unit group presented to thirty of their classmates, and both teachers. The project covered how society’s view of mental illness has changed from the early 1700s to the present, from the way mental health disorders were diagnosed, how cruel the treatment was for people with mental health disorders, and how the misconceptions of those disorders led to the stigma that’s often still associated with mental illness today.

Their classmates sat with notebooks and pencils, taking pages of notes, as they watched the unit group present a two-hour PowerPoint with the definitions of different mental health issues, while also using YouTube videos to add context by using real-life stories.

Halfway through the PowerPoint, the classmates were organized into small groups and placed at eight different activity stations. Each station focused on different mental health topics, including: depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, history of mental asylums, bipolar disorder, coping skills and treatment, Jordan Burnham’s story, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

The overall goal of the presentation was to educate their classmates on mental illness and discuss how society can help break the stigma that remains today. As Jordan sat in attendance for the unit group’s presentation, Mathew Wolfington paused during one of the slides and asked Jordan if he felt that the future of mental health awareness is going in a positive direction. Jordan responded by saying that he’s seen great improvement since the time he started presenting for Minding Your Mind in 2008, and it’s clear that seeing students choose to talk about mental health brings a lot of optimism about normalizing the conversation of mental health through education and stories.

Do you have students who are interested in researching a project on mental health? Contact Jordan at jordan@mindingyourmind.org to discuss how Minding Your Mind can assist in their work.

Minding Your Mind Celebrates 11th Anniversary at 2018 Blue Gene Gala

On Sunday, October 28, 2018, Minding Your Mind celebrated with friends, family, and supporters at our 11th Anniversary Blue Gene Gala. It was a wonderful evening, full of reunions, new connections, and inspiring presentations from our award winners and Minding Your Mind Young Adult Speakers.

Gerry Cuddy, president and CEO of Beneficial Bank, generously served as the evening’s master of ceremonies. Minding Your Mind honored honor members of our community and recognize the contributions they have made to advancing awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention.

Caroline O’Halloran, founding editor and publisher of SAVVY Main Line, received the 2018 Media Advocate Award. Her thoughtful and honest coverage of mental health issues and the opioid crisis along the Main Line has raised awareness and given hope to families who previously felt as if they were alone in their experiences. Trish Larsen, executive director of Minding Your Mind, said, “Through her honest, forthright, personal, and compelling reporting, she has positioned SAVVY Main Line as a leading voice in raising awareness of the opioid epidemic and its impact on the region, as well as promoting frank conversations about mental health. She has educating our community about bullying, gender identity, and suicide by giving our neighbors a voice and an audience, and we are incredibly grateful to have her as an ally and an advocate.”

The Sefcik Family received the 2018 Changing Minds Award for their tireless efforts to support families who have someone living with depression and raising awareness about suicide. When presenting their award, Larsen shared, “After losing [their son] T.J. to suicide…they became open in talking about what they experienced with T.J in the hopes of helping other families. Wendy and Steve along with their son Matt, created Remembering T.J.—A Story of Teen Depression, Lessons and Hope along with the rememberingtj.org website and blog. The Sefciks have presented to over 25,000 students, parents, educators and mental health professionals…Wendy has been a great friend to Minding Your Mind by giving of her time and talent, and endless connections in New Jersey. Our growth and expansion in New Jersey can be directly attributed to Wendy, who has been instrumental in introducing Minding Your Mind to schools and community organizations all over the state.”

Kim Porter, executive director of Be a Part of the Conversation, spoke about the impact of living through a child battling substance use disorder. Minding Your Mind young adult speakers shared testimonials from students, parents, mental health professionals, and educators who have experiences a Minding Your Mind presentation. The evening’s program was closed by Minding Your Mind’s Kristen Harootunian and her inspiring, personal story that she presents to students and adults as a young adult speaker.

Thank you to the hundreds of people who joined us and support our efforts every day. Please enjoy the photos from the event; click on a thumbnail to enlarge and scroll through the slide show.

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What’s it Like Going to College with an Eating Disorder? by Jenna DiLossi, Psy.D., NCC, LPC

Living with an eating disorder and learning to manage it is challenging during any time of the school year. For a student who is leaving for college, whether it be for the first time or returning, this takes on a new level of challenge, and sometimes an entirely new strategy.

In this video, Minding Your Mind’s Jenna DiLossi, Psy.D., NCC, LPC, provides thoughtful advice and considerations for these students and the adults in their lives to help navigate this time in a healthy and productive way.

The Center for Hope and Health provides treatment for eating disorders and anxiety disorders including PTSD, OCD, and panic disorder. Utilizing evidence-based treatments, CHH provides therapy that is shown in the research to work while also offering the most time-efficient outpatient strategies to achieve a strong recovery. Contact them toll free: 866-739-3083 or local: 610-645-5311.


Therapist seeks to work with KCSD on school safety initiatives

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer
Originally appeared 03/20/2018 01:22PM in Chester County Press, www.chestercounty.com

On February 14, a mass shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that resulted in the deaths of 17 people and the wounding of 17 others.

It became one of the world’s deadliest school massacres on record, and just the latest in a continuum of school tragedies that have burned names like Sandy Hook and Columbine into the consciousness of America.

As she watched the events unfold on television and social media over the next few days, Winden Rowe, M.S., a Kennett Square resident, therapist and the mother of two teenage sons who are students in the Kennett Consolidated School District, feared that the Florida shooting, on the heels of countless other tragedies just like it, had become just the latest stopping off point for a once seething rage against violence that was tapering off on its way to full acceptance.

She wrote a letter to KCSD Superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti that detailed her rage against complacency, both in the community and what she perceived was also true in the school district itself.

In short, Rowe wanted to work with the school district on finding ways to address the causes of school shootings, not just reactive protocols. “Silence in anything is cosignatory, and irresponsible in this matter,” she wrote.

The letter, which was later published in the Chester County Press, invited Tomasetti and district officials to explore the possibility of opening up a dialogue in an effort to “break the silence and demonstrate to our children that we are not willing to go on another day acting as if this is not a national crisis,” she wrote. “Please come to the table. Please offer more than a ‘We understand your concern.’”

She received it.

On Feb. 27, accompanied by her friend Colleen Kauffman, a mother of five who currently has four children in the school district, Rowe met with Tomasetti and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michael Barber to further a dialogue that in many ways, the school district has already begun to have with the population it serves.

During the meeting, Rowe and Kauffman asked the Kennett school district to create district-wide efforts that recognize potential warning signs in students whose actions may be triggered by stress and trauma, which could subsequently lead to negative health outcomes, mental health concerns and violence. Rowe encouraged the Kennett school district to adopt the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE) questionnaire, a 10-item self-report to identify childhood experiences of abuse and neglect. The study, conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proposes that childhood trauma and stress early in life, apart from potentially impairing social, emotional and cognitive development, indicates a higher risk of developing health and behavioral issues later in life.

Among the ten questions on the questionnaire are:

Prior to your 18th birthday:

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you, or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
    No___If Yes, enter 1  __
  2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
    No___If Yes, enter 1  __
  3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way or attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?

“One of the things that came up in dialogue was that there are two branches of discussion regarding school violence – regulations related to security and safety, and approaches to mental health,” Rowe said. “The overarching one for me, given my training, is wellness, and wellness gets overlooked but is the primary and most important aspect of prevention and building resilience in communities, so that we don’t see these incidents happen again.”

In the case of Nikolas Jacob Cruz, the 19-year-old convicted of the Florida shooting spree, “he faced a lot of adversity in his home environment that wasn’t being addressed,” Rowe said to a group of residents she met with on March 14 at Anchor Fitness in Kennett Square. “What we know about him is that he faced a lot of adversity in his childhood development. What we know about children with higher ACE scores are that they are far more likely to have poorer health outcomes caused by stress, and a higher likelihood of being incarcerated and involvement with the law.

“This is not a report card that means that something is wrong. It means that things have happened, and if you’re addressing the outcomes, this is where you go in order to treat the root causes. This is where the plumbing issue exists, but rather, we go clean up the spill.”

Since it was first introduced in the 1990s, the ACE questionnaire has helped lay the foundation for growing recognition of the prevalence and impact of childhood adversity, stress and trauma on children and youth. Rowe said that the ACE questionnaire is being incorporated into cities and towns, who in turn infuse it within schools and law enforcement systems.

‘Executive function’

Rowe said that living in a stress-filled environment contributes to a life imbalance, which makes it more difficult for the individual to access “executive function,” a self-regulation system that allows an individual to plan, focus attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully.

Using the analogy of seeing a bear in the forest, Rowe said that the first reaction is to run, “but what if you’re the kid in the home, and the bear comes home every night?” she said. “What if you have to go home to the bear every night? What if school is the bear, and you’re an under-functioning student who’s not quite cut out for the system?”

While the Kennett school district does not administer an ACE questionnaire to students, there are several measures in place that provide each student with social, academic and personal lifelines. The Student Assistance Program (SAP) at Kennett Middle School and the Kennett Intervention Program (KIT) at Kennett High School provide additional resources for students and their parents who are in need of support, and is staffed by trained social workers, counselors, teachers, administrators and nurses.

In addition, teachers in the district are trained in suicide prevention, opioid training and mandated reporting which, in accordance with Pa. Act 126 (2013), requires that all school and independent contractors of school entities provide child abuse recognition and reporting training to all employees, including contracted substitute teachers who have direct contact with children.

Several years ago, Dr. Terri Erbacher, an author, school psychologist for 15 years and professor of psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, met with school staff in order to provide the district with a screening instrument that counselors and social workers can use to asses students at risk.

“Based on the results of the risk screening, we move forward with with a recommendation for parents,” Barber said. “It is our own tool that was vetted through professionals in the field.”

“The ultimate outcome is that we find out more about the students and what may be the cause for what’s happening,” Tomasetti said. “They yield the same outcome [as the ACE questionnaire], even though they are not necessarily the same instrument.”

‘Minding Your Mind’

The Kennett school district is about to take another step to address mental health in its schools. On April 17 at the Kennett High School auditorium, beginning at 6:45 p.m., the district will welcome a presentation by Minding Your Mind, an organization that provides mental health education to adolescents, teens and young adults, their parents, teachers and school administrators, and the community, in order to reduce the stigma and destructive behaviors often associated with mental health issues. Minding Your Mind student presentations help students learn to recognize the warning signs of mental illness in themselves and their friends, and teach students that mental health issues and illnesses are common and treatable.

“Some of our constituents might think that mental health really isn’t a school district’s responsibility, but our staff’s point is, ‘We know it is,’” Tomasetti said. “We wish it wasn’t, but we know that there are kids who come to us who have difficulties.

“Everyone can sit around and ask who’s job is it to do this, but we’re going to do whatever we can in working with parents to give our kids the best education possible,” Tomasetti added. “We want them to be high achievers, but we also want them to be good citizens. A lot of times, because we have a lot of students in our school district, they tell us things. They tell their teachers things, they tell their counselors things that maybe they don’t tell other people. We look at this as a collaborative effort. We’ve got to help where we can help.”

Barber referred to the meeting he and Tomasetti had with Rowe and Kauffman as “a continued discussion on school safety, and what we can do to best support our students and parents, from a mental health perspective – continuing the conversation about what’s being done and what we can continue to do to best support our community.”

Rowe and Kauffman said that they plan to extend the conversation beyond the KCSD and into the community. They are currently in discussions with Kennett Flash General Manager Andrew Miller to begin hosting TED Talk-like seminars at the venue.

“Our kids, born after a certain date on the calendar, think that [school shootings] are a part of the normal world,” Rowe said. “For those of us who didn’t grow up this way, we’re watching these school shootings and thinking, ‘This is totally insane.’ Our goal with the district is not to ask about safety issues. We know that they’re handling that. We don’t want to talk about guns in schools, or have debates about mental health. Our goal is to talk about how can we infuse wellness into this school district.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.

Anxiety Over School Shootings: Finding proactive ways to deal with worried feelings

by Rachel Ehmke
Originally appeared on Child Mind Institute www.childmind.org


Anxiety over school shootings has become a common fear in America. When something that once seemed unthinkable happens with some regularity, added to our feeling of horror that it’s happened (again!) is another kind of alarm: Could this happen at my child’s school?

And many parents have begun to worry whether the news of school shootings, along with the active-shooter drills most schools are now conducting, are frightening children in a damaging way.

Responding to this concern, Jamie Howard, PhD, director of the Trauma and Resilience Service at the Child Mind Institute, says that parents tend to worry about school shootings more than their children do. “Even though they’re the ones going into school every day, I just don’t hear a lot of kids worrying about it,” she says. “When children are younger they’re more egocentric. As they get to become teenagers this changes.” This developmental selfishness is a quality that often protects younger children from the kind of anxiety that the adults around them are experiencing.

This is good news for parents who worry about their children feeling afraid. But kids are very good at picking up on the fears of their parents, and if they sense that Mom or Dad is afraid, they will take notice.

Unhealthy anxiety

Psychologists sometimes describe anxiety as the body’s internal alarm system. You want your alarm system to go off if there is a threat nearby. But sometimes the alarm is triggered too easily and you are alerted when there isn’t any danger at all. Or maybe there is a threat, but it doesn’t actually warrant a full-fledged alarm response.

The way school shootings are covered on television and discussed on social media is intense. We can hear about the tragedy throughout our day, often for several days, whenever we look at a screen. Besides making us feel upset and frustrated, it can also make us feel less safe. “Because it’s so horrific and scary and important it dominates the media and therefore our minds, and we think of it as a much bigger threat than it is, explains Dr. Howard. “The more you watch, the more it tricks your mind into thinking it’s an increased probability of occurring.”

School shootings actually are not very common, so while they are a threat, the likelihood that one will personally affect you is slim. In Dr. Howard’s words, “some anxiety is warranted, debilitating anxiety is not.” If you feel that you are more anxious than you should be, a good first step is always to take a break from any media that might be focusing your attention in an unhealthy direction.

Related: How to Avoid Passing Anxiety on to Your Kids

Look for ways to be proactive

Because anxiety is meant to prepare us for action, it makes sense to channel the worries you are feeling into something proactive you can do. One of the things Dr. Howard recommends is forming a parent group at the school. Assessing what the school needs, getting involved in the planning process for drills, and having ongoing conversations about keeping the school safe can make worried parents feel better.

Likewise, participating in political activism or efforts to support mental health and wellness in your community can make you feel like you are making a difference. It also sets a good example for your children, who may want to get involved, too. Many of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School began lobbying lawmakers after the tragic shooting at their school, and they inspired students across the country to think about ways they might make their own voices heard. Participating in a school walkout or even just getting their opinion across in a conversation with a parent can make kids feel like their thoughts and values matter, which will feel reassuring.

Talk to your children

Parents are sometimes afraid to bring up school shootings with their children, because they don’t want to scare them. But children will have often heard about a school shooting that is getting a lot of attention in the media, and bringing it up can actually alleviate any anxiety they might be feeling. Avoiding potentially scary topics can make them scarier to children.

These discussions are a chance for you to answer questions that they might have and provide some reassurance. While you can’t promise that their school will never have a shooting, you can in good faith tell them that school shootings are actually very rare and remind them that they practice drills at school to keep them safe.

If you aren’t sure what to say, you can always ask your kids if they have any questions. Use common sense about how much detail to go into, and try not to use euphemisms or fuzzy language, which can make a young child’s imagination run wild.

You can also take this opportunity to share important messages that you want to communicate. For example, Dr. Howard suggests saying, “If a classmate of yours is struggling, we don’t do nothing. We don’t gossip about them. We tell a grownup so they can get help.” Or if your child is a teenager, and another student says or writes something scary, the same advice holds: they should let an adult know.

Active shooter drills

Most schools today practice active shooter drills. The goal of these drills should never be to scare children. Just as we don’t use fake smoke in fire drills, schools don’t need to use fake guns during active shooter drills. Schools who try to make the drills as realistic as possible risk scaring students (and teachers), and miss the point of these drills in the first place.

Schools have active shooter drills to get everyone used to their safety plan. “The more you practice something, the more you rehearse it, you lay the mental tracks so that you decrease the tendency to freeze in the case of a real emergency and you can go quickly into action,” explains Dr. Howard. “In the military you do realistic drills because you really will be in combat, but this is a low-probability event. You just need to lay the tracks so you decrease those few seconds of reaction time.”

When teachers (and parents) talk about the drills, they should do it with a lot of confidence. They should make it clear that school shootings, just like fires, are unlikely, but, says Dr. Howard, “We are going to be ready if it happens. This is what we’re going to do to stay safe.”