Talking to people and checking in on our friends can have a huge helpful impact on mental health

Maureen Dunleavy, the Regional Vice President of the Guidance Care Center, an organization that has locations all over the Keys, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5 FM this morning to talk about mental health.

Coming out of the holidays can be a tough time for folks.

Dunleavy said, “The Guidance Care Center has been in the in the Keys for the last 50 years and so of course we do everything behavioral health and so mental health is on a continuum. It’s not something that you just start or stop and of course different times of the year bring different stressors and you have to have lots of tools and manage that.”

What are the tools to manage mental health?

Dunleavy said, “The Guidance Care Center does mental health and substance abuse treatment, we have the entire continuum of care, everything from prevention, which is in our schools, to our crisis stabilization unit for people who are at risk of suicide and our detox center. We also have permanent mental health housing, the Heron, which is in Marathon, and three sites throughout the Keys and Key West, Marathon and Key Largo, and we have lots of community based services. The things that we provide, really cover a full continuum. But there are lots of tools that individuals can use that don’t cost any money that they can do on their own, things like exercise, sleep, eating well, getting outside. I think it’s just really important to note that everybody has mental health. It’s not a continuum. Sometimes we’re going to do better than other times. There’s no shame in reaching out for help when it becomes really problematic, where it’s impacting our day to day life, our functioning, work, school, or if we’re starting to think about ending our own life. Those are those are huge warning signs to be able to reach out to the Guidance Care Center for some additional support to get through those dark times.”

Mental health is really incredibly important for all of us.

Dunleavy said, “Oftentimes, we look at these scenarios where someone ends their life, or there’s a violent shooting, or there’s domestic violence, and we think, oh, those people have mental health issues. But the truth is we all have mental health issues, because mental health, again, is managed throughout our lifetime. I think it’s important for us to remember that the number one warning sign for violence, and for suicide is when people isolate or withdraw. The number one protective factor for ourselves and those around us, it goes back to connecting with other people, reaching out, seeing if they need help. See something, say something. There’s really research that backs that up that, reaching out to somebody saying, or just asking if they’re alright, or we haven’t seen them in a while, can be life saving. Something that simple.”

What are the warning signs for mental health issues?

Dunleavy said, “The biggest warning signs for suicide and for violence, when we talk about school shootings, or we talk about domestic violence, or we talk about other types of violence is that isolation, that withdraw from other people, kind of being separated from others. That’s number one. But of course, I think just as a general rule, when we see changes in somebody that they don’t seem like themselves, their behavior changes, whether they’re using more drugs or alcohol, they’re angry, all of those can be can be warning signs that hey, something’s going on. This is an ongoing issue that we need to pay attention to and we need to not be afraid to reach out and not be afraid, especially with suicide to ask. Asking someone are you alright? I haven’t seen you in a while. I’m worried about you. Have you been thinking about suicide? Those types of questions can be life saving.”

There’s also help for the whole family at the Guidance Care Center.

Dunleavy suggested, “Get information. I know that lots of people are fearful. I don’t want to talk to a psychiatrist, I don’t want to talk to a crisis counselor, I don’t want to talk to the domestic abuse shelter, but getting information to make decisions is important. You don’t have to act on all the information, but reaching out to find out what’s available, or what could possibly help, again, is another tool in that toolbox. We have a 24 hour crisis line in the Keys that’s run through the Guidance Care Center as a mobile crisis response team, and it’s for anyone who’s having a behavioral health crisis. So that could be anything from feeling suicidal, and needing help to get to a safe hospitalization, or someone who’s using drugs or alcohol. That’s available 24/7. We also have the national suicide crisis hotline and text line, if someone’s just like, I just need someone to talk me through this, they can contact 988 at anytime.”

Lack of transportation can be an issue with mental health.

Dunleavy said, “We have transportation for those disadvantaged. Twice a week, we’re running four trips to Miami. So people can who qualify, either by age, income or disability, can access that transportation and get on the bus door to door to be able to get to their appointments. We also have a shuttle that goes to the rest of the Keys as well. So all of that is through our transportation program, once you’re eligible, where you submitted whatever needs to be submitted to qualify, then you can arrange appointments within 48 hours to be taken where you need to go.”

Springtime can also be a high risk period for suicide.

Dunleavy said, “Coming into spring and I know you think oh, it’s a hopeful time. But those people who live in other areas of the country where it’s winter and you can’t really get outside as much, that impacts them of course, during the winter months with daylight savings time it gets darker earlier. That darkness also kind of plays a role in how we’re feeling and the serotonin in our brain. That’s why it’s important to get outside when we can and walk and do all of those things. There’s also less opportunities to connect in the spring so there’s less holidays. We just came out of November, December, which has lots of events, and different things happening in the community, opportunities to connect with family and friends. Springtime of course is a lesser time for those until you get to Easter and Memorial Day and those times, some things in the summer. The other really important point for us in the Keys is when we start hitting February, March, we start thinking about hurricane season. And for those of us who’ve been here a long time, I’ve been here 20 years, who’ve been through Irma and Wilma, and have seen some of the other devastation that’s happened in Florida, that can be extremely anxiety provoking, and that can also affect our mental health.”

News from the media in our country and other countries can increase stress on people.

Dunleavy added, “And in our community in the Keys because we have very high costs of living and limited affordable housing and limited availability, that’s actually the number one risk factor for suicide in our community is housing instability. So we don’t think about that. But that’s our number one risk factor for us.”

Donations always help the Guidance Care Center.

Dunleavy said, “We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, in Florida. We help people whether you can pay for it or not. So that’s really key, that we want to get the message out there that, do not be afraid that I can’t reach out for help because I don’t have the funding to be able to pay for the therapy session or to pay for the doctor’s appointment or to pay for the medications. That is a non issue for us. We have funding that comes locally, from the county from the state, from the federal government to be able to provide the services that we do so. That’s also supported through donations that people give to our community. We’re also raising funds now, we need to rebuild our mental health, housing in Marathon. So we are moving along with that project to break ground in this year. So definitely taking donations for that, which of course, falls back on what we just talked about that housing instability is our greatest risk factor in this community. The Heron is our mental health housing in Marathon and it houses 14 individuals with severe mental health issues, who otherwise would probably be in an institution or in jail or homeless. We really keep families together, an assisted living facility is the highest level of being able to provide support to somebody. People hear assisted living, they think nursing home, that’s not what we do at the Heron. The Heron is for individuals who have very severe mental health issues, and can’t live independently. So we need to rebuild that facility because it’s been here in the community 30 years. We have a lot of federal funding, local funding and state funding to be able to rebuild that. So we’re in the process of going through the environmental review and the permits and things that have to happen so we can break ground on that, but that will happen this year.”

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