mental health

Writer and Director Paul Dalio speaks with Paul Richard, executive director of the SHINE Initiative, during a question and answer session.

A packed room listened to stories of personal struggles and strength on Tuesday at the fourth Mental Health Awareness Conference held by Mount Wachusett Community College and the SHINE Initiative.

In a continued effort to raise awareness about mental health and wellness, the two groups brought together four speakers to discuss their personal experiences with mental health and addiction. Each year, approximately one in five Americans suffer from some mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and the conference is designed to shine a light on mental illness.

During his welcome address, Mount Wachusett Community College President James Vander Hooven, Ed.D., recognized the school’s students in the audience, asking them to stand. This group included over 100 nursing students. He told the gathered students that this year’s graduation will be moving for him because of the cumulative good that MWCC’s graduates will be doing in their communities.

“You will be saving lives and I hope you recognize that. I hope you recognize and value that as much as I do,” he said.

President Vander Hooven then talked about his experience realizing that asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. He said that while he has had the benefit of supportive family and friends, he cannot control the amount of support those at the school have amongst their families, friends or communities. But what he can do, he said, is pledge to support those in the MWCC community as they seek the assistance they need.

“It took me a long time to get to a point where I would consistently seek help when I experienced my own symptoms of depression,” said President Vander Hooven. “I know that what we experience does not define us.”

This year’s keynote speaker was writer and director Paul Dalio who talked about his experience managing bipolar and how it influenced his film “Touched with Fire”. He spoke about the difficulty in managing bipolar and the importance of letting people know that even though they have been diagnosed and life will change, with the right care they will be able to tap into their creativity while avoiding the detrimental cycle of mania.

“You can be stable and you can have the creativity and the fire. And I am definitely more stable than I was. I’m much more creative now than I was before bipolar,” said Dalio to Paul Richard, executive director of the SHINE Initiative, during a question and answer session. “Part of it is you live through the depth of life and it enriches your perspective.”

Dalio’s feature film, “Touched with Fire,” stars Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby and has been acclaimed by critic Stephen Holden of the New York Times as “an extraordinarily sensitive, nonjudgmental exploration of bipolar disorder and creativity.” It draws inspiration from Dalio’s bipolar diagnosis and experiences dealing with his illness and artistic nature. Dalio has been outspoken about his hospitalization and treatment while being a voice for the contributions of people diagnosed as bipolar.

In addition to Dalio, a trio of speakers discussed everything from living with mental illness, new treatments for addiction and the governmental challenges in helping to break the cycle of addiction.

Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School in Worcester talked about his mindfulness research and how he has turned this towards helping people break the cycles of cigarette smoking and emotional eating. By having people be mindful of why they are being urged to do something such as smoking, it is possible to have them break the cycle as they examine that the behavior will not solve their actual concerns, he said.

“There’s an urge for the pleasant to continue and the unpleasant to go away. That leads to a behavior,” said Dr. Brewer. “If we can understand mechanistically what is happening, we can work with things … and drive a wedge between the urge to act and the action.”

Dr. Barrie Baker, Director of Clinical Activities at Tufts Health Public Plans, discussed her own struggles with what has been classified as bipolar even though she has never had a manic episode. She has been lucky to have support when she needed it, she said, and it is important to extend that support to others going through mental health challenges.

“We as medical professionals can’t even talk about it amongst ourselves,” she said explaining that we all need to do our part to break the stigma against mental illness. “I’m damn good at my job. I’m really good but no one would have given me the chance. You can function. You can do your job. You can be a productive member of society.”

Massachusetts State Senator for Worcester & Middlesex Districts Jennifer Flanagan spoke about the ongoing struggle to get Massachusetts residents treatment for addiction, specifically focusing on the fight against opioids, heroin and fentanyl. These drugs are ripping through our communities, she said, and it often takes people over five times through rehab to finally get clean. She addressed the numerous nursing students from Mount Wachusett in attendance, urging them to work with the addicts they will encounter as they undertake the long journey to sobriety.

“You are all going to see it. And you are probably not going to know what to do about it. But stick with them,” Flanagan said.

Following the presentation, Mount Wachusett Community College nursing students participated in QPR (question, persuade, refer) suicide prevention training.

Writer and Director Paul Dalio will be the keynote speaker at the Mental Health Awareness Conference on march 21.

In a continued effort to raise awareness about mental health and wellness, Mount Wachusett Community College and the SHINE Initiative will present the fourth Mental Health Awareness Conference. This year’s keynote speaker will be writer and director Paul Dalio who will talk about his experience with and managing bipolar and how it influenced his film “Touched with Fire”.

The free conference will take place Tuesday, March 21 from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Leominster. Each year, approximately one in five Americans suffer from some mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and the conference is designed to shine a light on mental illness.

“Each and every time we speak to a child, teen, young adult, and their families and caregivers, we move the needle that much closer to erasing the stigma that has overshadowed a true understanding and acceptance of mental illness for what it truly is – an illness,” said Paul Richard, executive director of the SHINE Initiative, whose mission is to promote the mental wellness of children and young adults. “The collaboration and friendship we’ve enjoyed with Mount Wachusett Community College provides not only hope, but true confidence, that our society is on the cusp of recognizing mental illness – and mental wellness – as mainstream health issues.”

Writer, director and composer Paul Dalio will be the featured speaker at the conference. The conference will also include a panel presentation and luncheon. Following the presentations, Mount Wachusett Community College nursing students will participate in QPR (question, persuade, refer) suicide prevention training. Seating is limited, and reservations are required.

“Mental health is a topic that must be tackled through direct and substantial conversations in our schools, in our workplaces and in our homes,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “This is an issue that touches everyone and has a direct impact on learning, employment and living a fulfilling life. We are honored to be involved again in presenting this important conference in conjunction with the SHINE Initiative.”

Dalio’s feature film, “Touched with Fire,” stars Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby and has been acclaimed by critic Stephen Holden of the New York Times as “an extraordinarily sensitive, nonjudgmental exploration of bipolar disorder and creativity.” It draws inspiration from Dalio’s bipolar diagnosis and experiences dealing with his illness and artistic nature. Dalio has been outspoken about his hospitalization and treatment while being a voice for the contributions of people diagnosed as bipolar; talking about the struggle to be artistic and emotional while managing his illness.

The panel speakers will include Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School in Worcester; Dr. Barrie Baker Director of Clinical Activities at Tufts Health Public Plans; and Senator Jennifer Flanagan Massachusetts State Senator for Worcester & Middlesex Districts.

For more information and to register for the conference, contact MWCC’s Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development at 978-630-9525 or online at mwcc.edu/continuing/conference.

President Asquino; Panelists Ernest Martineau, Michelle Dunn, Jack Maroney, Tamara E. Perini, Daisy Bacener, Joseph D. Early, Jr., Diane Power; event organizer Sharmese Gunn

Left to right: President Asquino; Panelists Joseph D. Early, Jr., Ernest Martineau, Daisy Bacener, Michelle Dunn; Moderator Jen Flanagan; Panelists Jack Maroney, Tamara E. Perini, Diane Power; event organizer Sharmese Gunn

Mount Wachusett Community College welcomed over 250 guests to its Gardner campus this morning for a public forum moderated by State Senator Jennifer Flanagan to address the issues surrounding opioid addiction and abuse, a critical problem impacting too many families and communities across the Commonwealth.

The free forum, Opiates in North Central Massachusetts: Education for Community-Wide Crisis Response, took place on Monday, Oct 31 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. with a breakout session for dialogue and NARCAN® training following the panel forum.

Panelists included Fitchburg Police Chief Ernest Martineau; Michelle Dunn, Founder/President of the A.E.D. Foundation, Inc. and co-director and president of Alyssa’s Place; Jack Maroney, CEO of Recovery Centers of America at Westminster; Tamara E. Perini, MSW, LCSW UMass Memorial – HealthAlliance Hospital and the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office; Daisy Bacener, Chief Probation Officer for the City of Fitchburg; District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr., Office of Worcester County District; and Dr. Diane Power M.D. OB/GYN UMass Memorial – HealthAlliance Hospital.

The panelists discussed the multi-generational aspects of opioid addiction, the coping skills needed by families with a loved one suffering from addiction, dealing with the crisis as a public health issue and not a criminal one, potential changes to drug prescription practices, and the value of NARCAN® as a live-saving measure.

Senator Flanagan led the panel through many other important topics including what organizations are working to solve the issues, saying that community colleges are on the front line in meeting the need for services head-on with training and programs.

Senator Flanagan of Leominster has worked tirelessly on this issue during her two terms in the House of Representatives and after being elected to the Senate in 2008.  She currently serves as Chair of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee and Chair of the Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction. Senator Flanagan was also appointed as Vice Chair of the Public Health Committee, and is a member of the Public Safety Committee and Homeland Security Committee.

An audience of over 250 attendees hears advice from a panel of opioid addition experts in the Mount Wachusett Community College Theatre.

An audience of over 250 attendees hears advice from a panel of opioid addition experts in the Mount Wachusett Community College Theatre.

Both in the House and Senate, Senator Flanagan played critical roles in passing several key pieces of legislation relative to mental health and substance abuse. The most recent being an act to increase opportunities for long-term substance abuse recovery signed into law in 2014, which provides people with an opportunity to access treatment and an act relative to substance use prevention signed into law in 2016.

There were many positive moments in the forum, such as when Fitchburg Police Chief Ernest Martineau relayed the success story that Fitchburg Police have saved 100 lives by administering 100 NARCAN® treatments since June 2015. NARCAN® blocks the effects of opioids and can reverse an overdose.

Following the forum, Michael Ellis, Coordinator of the Men’s Suicide Prevention Project, Regional Behavioral Health Collaborative, and Heywood Hospital provided free NARCAN® training for over 60 participants. The training included interactive, practical instructions for an engaged audience who asked many follow up questions.

Participants who did not opt for the training attended a dialogue facilitated by Jason Zelesky, Dean of Students at Mount Wachusett Community College. The dialogue helped participants personalize what they’d just heard in the forum, increase their understanding of this complex issue, and provided participants with the opportunity to discuss root causes to the issue as well as potential solutions.

“This is the crisis of our time,” said Dr. Daniel Asquino, president of the college. “But our hope is that this will not be the crisis of tomorrow. Today’s event gives us all a better sense of what we can do to combat our region’s opioid epidemic by working together and increasing our understanding of the causes, early warning signs and resources available to help those in need.”

The event concluded with time for attendees to meet with resource organizations including AdCare Hospital of Worcester, Inc.; The A.E.D. Foundation; American Addiction Centers; Heywood Hospital CHART Program;  Montachusett Opportunity Council, Inc.; Montachusett Suicide Prevention Task Force; Mount Wachusett Community College Admissions; Mount Wachusett Community College Gateway to College; the Office of District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr.; Recovery Centers of America at Westminster; the SHINE Initiative; and Spectrum Health Systems Inc.

This Tea Time Speaker Series was a recipient of the 2016 MWCC Foundation Innovation Grant and was sponsored by: Mount Wachusett Community College’s Diversity Consortium; Gateway to College; the Workforce Diversity Pipeline Program which is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health; The North Central Massachusetts Minority Coalition/Three Pyramids, Inc. This event was also sponsored by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges & Universities, in an effort to examine Citizenship Under Siege through public forums and conversations.

Daniel Asquino, Shine Award RecipientThe SHINE Initiative held its tenth annual Keep Your Mind Open event on October 5, 2016 at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. Among the evening’s highlights, Dr. Daniel M. Asquino, President of Mount Wachusett Community College, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Ed Manzi, Jr., Chairman of the SHINE Initiative and Chairman of Fidelity Bank.

President Asquino was recognized for his leadership in increasing mental health awareness through support of mental health and wellness conferences and events that have featured experts in the fields of mental health as speakers and panelists.

The SHINE Initiative aims to shine a light of understanding on the issues of mental health and was founded in 2004 under the guidance of a community-based advisory board and the directors and employees of Fidelity bank, based in Leominster.

Mount Wachusett Community College will continue its support of mental health awareness under Dr. Asquino’s leadership by sponsoring the upcoming Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Awareness Event on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at Great Wolf Lodge at 5:00 p.m.

For a list of mental health and wellness resources, please visit: mwcc.edu/hr/wellness.

Kevin Hines

International speaker, author and mental health advocate Kevin Hines, one of approximately 30 people to survive a suicide attempt at the Golden Gate Bridge, will be the keynote speaker at a Mental Health Awareness Conference on Thursday, March 27 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Colonial Hotel in Gardner.

The free conference, sponsored by the SHINE Initiative, Mount Wachusett Community College, and Heywood Hospital, will also include a panel presentation and luncheon.

Hines, author of Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, has spoken to audiences around the world about his firsthand experience with suicidal thoughts and his eventual attempt in 2000 by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. He now promotes suicide awareness internationally, speaking with student, professional and veteran affairs audiences about his battle with bi-polar disease and his ongoing crusade to live mentally well.

He has been featured in the critically acclaimed film “The Bridge,” on Larry King Live, 20/20, Anderson Cooper 360, Good Morning America, and Ireland’s famed Tonight with Vincent Browne. Hines has been featured in hundreds of radio, film, and television media outlets. His articles have appeared in the San Francisco Medical Magazine, The Santa Barbara Independent, New Voices at Bay, National Council Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Advancements in Psychiatric Treatment and other publications. He was recently honored as a Lifetime Achievement Award Winner by The National Council for Community Behavioral Health.

Panel speakers will include: Bryan Doe, Department of Veterans Affairs, Springfield Veterans Outreach; Dr. Stephanie Rodrigues, Assistant Professor Department of Psychiatry, Division of Addiction, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Heather Brenhouse, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience Psychology Department, Northeastern University.

The program will conclude with QPR training. QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer – three simple steps that can help save a life by recognizing warning signs of a suicide crisis.

“Mount Wachusett Community College is proud to continue this important initiative with our community partners to raise awareness of an issue that affects countless lives and families in the U.S. and locally,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino.

Mental health problems affect more than 50 million Americans and their families, including as many as 300,000 students and young adults in Massachusetts at any given time.

Established in 2004 by Fidelity Bank, the SHINE Initiative’s mission is to recognize mental illness in children and young adults as a mainstream health issue.

“Our focus on young people is fueled by the knowledge that half of lifetime cases of serious mental illness begin by age 14,” said Paul Richard, the SHINE Initiative’s executive director. “Mount Wachusett Community College is to be commended for recognizing that mental health is an integral piece of total wellness and not to be overlooked.”

For more information about the conference and to register online, go to http://mwcc.edu/continuing/conference or contact MWCC’s Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development at 978-630-9525.

Active Minds founder and executive director Alison Malmon with Paul Richard, executive director of the SHINE Initiative, at the mental health conference co-sponsored by MWCC.

Mental health problems affect more than 50 million Americans and their families, including as many as 300,000 students and young adults in Massachusetts at any given time. To help raise awareness about mental health issues affecting young people, The SHINE Initiative and Mount Wachusett Community College hosted a mental health conference on Thursday, Oct. 11 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Leominster.

Approximately 300 area educators, mental health professionals and students attended the conference, which included presentations by experts in the areas of anxiety and depression awareness and treatment and suicide awareness and prevention, as well as a training session.

“Mount Wachusett Community College is proud to partner with the SHINE Initiative to raise awareness of an issue that affects countless lives and families in the U.S. and locally,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino, who welcomed the participants. “Through the support of The SHINE Initiative, we can work in collaboration with our community partners and local school districts to develop and implement a program aimed at enhancing student success at all levels of education.”

“Our mission is to be a leader in the effort to recognize mental illness in children and young adults as a mainstream health issue. This conference is a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness with the help of educators, health providers and students themselves,” said Paul Richard, executive director of the SHINE Initiative.

The focus on the mental health of young people is critical. Half of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14; one in every five young person is affected by mental health problems at any given time; two of every three young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need; and suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds.

Conference speakers include, from left, Nick Dutter of Home Base; SHINE Executive Director Paul Richard; Dr. Phoebe Moore and Dr. Barry Feldman of UMass Medical School; pictured with MWCC Vice President of Human Resources Diane Ruksnaitis, who served on the conference committee with Heather Duval and Melissa Manzi of MWCC.

Alison Malmon, founder and executive director of Active Minds, a national peer advocacy organization established at more than 340 college and university campuses including a new chapter at MWCC, was the keynote speaker. Several club members and their advisor, Professor Julie Capozzi, attended the conference.

Ms. Malmon founded the nonprofit organization Active Minds in 2003, when she was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania following the suicide of her older brother, Brian. Featured on CNN, in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and others, Active Minds has become the voice of young adult mental health advocacy nationwide. “The vast majority of mental illnesses start in middle school, high school and college ages. This is a time when we need to be educated,” she said.

Other speakers included Nick Dutter, a veteran of the U.S. Army and the war in Iraq who now serves as veteran outreach coordinator for Home Base Program, a partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation providing clinical care and support services to veterans and their families; Dr. Barry N. Feldman, director of psychiatry services in public safety and assistant professor of psychiatry at UMass Medical School; and Dr. Phoebe S. Moore, assistant professor in the psychiatry department at UMass Medical School. In addition, Melissa Manzi, senior academic counselor at MWCC and Diane King, R.N., coordinator of Health Services at MWCC, presented a QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training session, which taught participants how to recognize the warning sides of a suicide crisis and provide help.