“We’re Here for a Reason”

In the second episode of Michayla Savitt’s podcast The Scoop on Mental Health, we hear the story of Scott Fried, an incredible man who decided to devote his life to volunteer service after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS three decades ago. “We’re Here for a Reason” tells a remarkable tale of loss, forgiveness, and self-love, culminating in Scott’s mission to help others with self-acceptance and promote safe-sex education. As Scott tells Michayla: “There is inside of each of us an innate worth, an innate sense of goodness and value, that can never, never, ever be unfriended, or undone, or blocked, or just missed, or ghosted, or benched, or ignored.”

scoopicon-mini “We’re Here for a Reason” [Episode 2] Listen
Scott Fried tells us how getting infected with HIV/AIDS led him to start a life of preaching messages of self-worth and love to people around the world.

Get the Scoop on Mental Health

Throughout the past year, I developed and produced The Scoop on Mental Health, a podcast series now being shared by The Sophie Fund. In my opinion, we can never talk too much about subjects that “make us human.” Hearing true stories is one of the most effective ways of changing someone’s perspective on an issue, which is why I started this series—to help normalize talking about mental health in everyday conversations.

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I experienced first-hand the positive ripple effect that comes from talking about things that are difficult and personal. Hearing these incredible stories of resilience from complete strangers, from classmates, and even from my family members has reaffirmed the reason we need to talk about mental illness: knowing you are not alone in your struggles is key to accepting challenges and seeking help. While I cannot attest to the full effect it has on my guests and listeners, from their feedback I know it has had a positive influence on accepting their conditions.

As someone who has lived with depression and anxiety since childhood, I can say that hearing these stories helped me to accept my own condition. While it certainly doesn’t define who I am, it plays a large role in my daily life. Openly saying “I take medication” and “I go to therapy” is a recent step in my mental health journey, because like many people, I tucked my issues away in fear of being judged. Fear that I would be seen as incompetent, or weak, because I don’t fit society’s definition of “normal.”

For as long as I can remember I’ve been depressed, but high functioning, receiving on and off treatment for multiple years. However, after a head injury in June 2016 my symptoms began to worsen. At some point during that summer I slipped into a hypomanic state—I lost my appetite, was barely sleeping, my mind raced at all times, and I felt like I had lost control of my mental well-being.

One day in September, I crashed. I couldn’t get out of bed all day, and just felt completely numb. I knew something was very wrong, and that I needed help. Eventually I called my mom, and with help from her and my dad we made a plan to get proper treatment for what I learned was bipolar II disorder.

In retrospect, I should have taken time off from college, but was terrified of the repercussions of leaving with the fall semester well underway. I managed to get my feet back on the ground, but knew that getting through the semester meant discussing my situation with my friends, my boss, and my teachers. In doing so, I finally realized that being honest helped so much more than dealing with it on my own—and most of all, they were more likely to say “I’m here for you, how can I help?” than to pass judgment.

That’s the common theme you’ll hear in this podcast series—whether it’s just daily mental health care, or managing a mental illness, finding ways to exercise the mind and let people in makes the burden that much lighter.

In this first episode, you’ll meet Bridget, a friend of mine who speaks about her anxiety and depression amidst balancing work, life, and self-care. “It Was Just Something I Dealt With” tackles the misconception that high anxiety should not be taken seriously, along with what we can do to push past the stigma. I continue to admire Bridget’s grit in this fight, both in her own life, and in spearheading technology to help others keep track of their mental health.

I am honored to share these stories, and hope that it inspires you to tell your own stories in whatever way you are comfortable. More than anything, I urge you to continue the conversation however you can—for just by talking about mental illness, we can better understand one another, and work to end the stigma that harmfully keeps mental illness shrouded from sight.

—By Michayla Savitt

Michayla Savitt, a recent Ithaca College alumnus, is a news anchor and reporter at Cayuga Radio Group

scoopicon-mini“It Was Just Something I Dealt With” [Episode 1] Listen

Bridget Strawn tells us about how she learned to manage her anxiety and depression, and how that experience inspired the creation of a self-care app.

The Healing Power of Storytelling

“The Path to Recovery: One Story at a Time” is the theme of this year’s Annual Depression Conference being held at the Tompkins County Public Library from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28. Open to the public, the conference includes a keynote talk, a panel discussion on mental health recovery, workshops focused on children/adolescents, adults, and older adults, and a book discussion.

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The keynote speaker is Regi Carpenter, an advocate for “narrative medicine,” a medical approach that utilizes patients’ personal stories as part of their healing. She is the author of Snap!, the story of her own severe mental illness as a teenager and her path to recovery, and a memoir, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood.

Carpenter was 16 years old when she first experienced severe mental illness and was committed to a New York State mental institution. According to the conference organizers:

“After being released she never spoke of it for over thirty years. As a professional storyteller, author and workshop leader, Regi knows the importance of telling one’s story to overcome trauma, ease anxiety, depression and shame. It wasn’t until she told her story of teenage trauma that Regi knew the healing power of stories to restore and heal the battered psyche. In this keynote you’ll hear stories of Regi’s experience as well as how stories can be used as a therapeutic tool to help clients become more resilient and resourceful.”

From Carpenter’s website bio:

“For over 20 years Regi Carpenter has been bringing songs and stories to audiences of all ages throughout the world in school, theaters, libraries, at festivals, conferences and in people’s back yards. An award winning performer, Regi has toured her solo shows and workshops in theaters, festivals and schools, nationally and internationally.

“Regi is the youngest daughter in a family that pulsates with contradictions: religious and raucous, tender but terrible, unfortunate yet irrepressible. These tales celebrate the glorious and gut-wrenching lives of four generations of Carpenter s raised on the Saint Lawrence River in Clayton, New York. Tales of underwater tea parties, drowning lessons and drives to the dump give voice to multi-generations of family life in a small river town with an undercurrent.”

Ithaca’s 24th Annual Depression Conference is sponsored by: the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County; Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services; Family and Children’s Service of Ithaca; Finger Lakes Independence Center; Ithaca College Gerontology Institute; The Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; Multicultural Resource Center; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Tompkins County Mental Health Department; Tompkins County Office for the Aging; and the Tompkins County Public Library.

Photo Caption: Regi Carpenter

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What a Weekend in Ithaca

“One of the best places on earth.” —Sam Harris, vocalist of Ithaca’s own X Ambassadors rock band.

Hard to argue that sentiment after another amazing weekend in Ithaca, which saw the successful debut of the Cayuga Sound Festival and the 11th edition of the Porchfest music extravaganza.

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Harris and the Billboard-nominated XA crew (“Renegades,” “Unsteady”) headlined 13 musical acts at Stewart Park-centered Cayuga Sound on Saturday, and no fewer than 180 performers took part in Fall Creek/Northside’s Porchfest on Sunday.

Along with Cayuga Sound producer Dan Smalls of DSP Shows, XA passed up their concert fees so that maximum proceeds could be channeled to Ithaca nonprofits including organizations supporting young people—an act of philanthropy hailed by Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.

Harris’s philanthropy is especially heartfelt because he and his brother and bandmate Casey Harris spent childhood summers at day camp in Stewart Park and he later served as a counselor there.

“I’ll start crying if I think about it too hard,” he told the Ithaca Journal. “It’s so cool that we’re able to give back to GIAC and Ithaca Youth Bureau and CSMA and Vitamin L—groups in Ithaca that we benefited from as kids.”

Smalls wrote on Facebook afterwards: “Yesterday was amazing. The best thing I have ever done in 28 years in the music biz.”

Ithaca Voice has a wonderful photo galleries of Cayuga Sound and Porchfest.

Jim Catalano had a great preview piece in the Ithaca Journal on Cayuga Sound, including the interview with Sam Harris.

Billboard wrote about the hometown boy and the plans for Cayuga Sound last April.

Thank You for Your Service

By David Shapiro

Thank You For Your Service, the 2016 documentary by Tom Donahue, opened my eyes to the mental trauma that our military veterans can fall victim to. Among the shocking realities highlighted by the film is that 20 veterans take their own lives every day in the United States. Thank You for Your Service goes beyond the statistics to reveal the failed mental health policies within the U.S. military.

It is a privilege for Family & Children’s Service in Ithaca to share this important movie with our community and participate in advocacy for improved mental health care for our veterans and active service men and women. The screening of Thank You For Your Service at Cinemapolis on May 17-18 is sponsored through Family & Children’s Pamela and Robert Swieringa Education Center, carrying on a tradition we began last year in using cinema as a powerful public educational platform during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Thank You for Your Service features all manner of players and experts discussing the mental health crisis in the U.S. military, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ex-CIA chief David Petraeus, and war correspondents like Sebastian Junger and Dexter Filkins. But most importantly, the film gives voice to the voiceless veterans themselves. The Hollywood Reporter aptly summarized the story in its review of Thank You for Your Service:

The interview subjects all agree that the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration have not sufficiently attended to veterans’ mental health needs, and the problems they cite are numerous. Among them are bureaucratic inefficiencies, lack of funding, the overprescribing of psychotropic medications, a lack of qualified therapists, and extended tours of duty that result in soldiers serving far longer than they bargained for.

But it’s not the expert commentary, as illuminating as it is, that gives the film its power. Rather, it’s the handful of veterans who discuss their emotional struggles, both while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and after their discharge. One describes watching his best friend being burned alive, while another relates how he felt so guilty over civilians killed as a result of his actions that he attempted to find their family members to apologize. They talk about suffering from nightmares and PTSD; resorting to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain; and, in one case, playing Russian roulette.

Thank You for Your Service has won awards, but its producers are determined to achieve something else: change. They are urging movie-goers to take action in support of a proposed Behavioral Health Corps in the armed services that would focus on addressing critical mental health needs.

“If the public takes one message away from this film: reach out to your member of congress and request that they support a behavior health corps in the military,” says Daniel Rice, president of the Thayer Leader Development Group. “That will be the best action that they can take to help address the plague of suicides that our veterans are suffering.”

David Shapiro is chief executive officer of Family & Children’s Service in Ithaca

Cinemapolis Program Details:

May 17: Film at 6:30 p.m., Panel Discussion at 8:30 p.m.

May 18: Film at 7 p.m.

Also in Mental Health Awareness Month:

Family & Children’s Service Annual Celebration

Honoring:

Adga Osborn Award recipient Joan Jacobs Brumberg

Family Partner of the Year Serendipity Catering

Volunteer of the Year Bert Odom-Reed

Guest Speaker:

Karl Pillemer

Director of Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

Tuesday May 16

8-9:30 a.m.

Ithaca Country Club

189 Pleasant Grove Road

Click here to purchase tickets