Virginia Community Creates Action Plan on Mental Health

Friday, March 7, 2014
United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley President Joe Shtulman and author Diana Ketterman look over a United Way report on mental health issues. The group has come up with steps for mental health aid.

By VAL VAN METER
The Winchester Star


WINCHESTER — Diana Ketterman grew up in a family held hostage by mental illness.

Her father had a brain tumor, which affected his mental capacity before he died from it. Her
mother suffered for years from schizophrenia.

The West Virginia native, a professional educator turned government employee, said few people knew of her tough beginnings until she stood up at a Mental Health Community
Dialogue meeting at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown in October.

Nearly 100 people attended the meeting called by United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley
and its 16 partner agencies, which was held in response to the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and a request from President Barack Obama to start a national dialogue on improving help for the mentally ill and their loved ones.

“We don’t want this to happen in our community,” Joseph Shtulman, president of the local
United Way, said Thursday.

The human stories, information and concerns voiced at the meeting have been gathered into
a Mental Health Community Report, which will be presented to the United Way board
Tuesday.

Shtulman said it contains five recommendations on action steps that should be taken.

The group wanted to see:

  • Increasing public awareness of mental health issues and roadblocks to treatment.
  • Training of school personnel to spot mental health issues in children early.
  • More assisted living situations for adults with severe mental health issues.
  • More job opportunities and help for employees through their workplaces.
  • More financial support to make mental health treatment affordable. Also increased Medicaid support.

While United Way board members will have to decide what steps to take to improve mental
health care and support here, Shtulman said United Way is already working on the first step.

“We are concentrating our efforts on encouraging people to talk about the challenges of
mental illness.

“One in four people in the United States experiences a mental illness each year,” said
Ketterman. “That’s a huge percentage of the population.”

Shtulman said United Way is also taking steps to bring the telephone number 211 to
everyone’s attention.

The easy-to-remember number will connect to a volunteer who can recommend agencies in
this area to help with a variety of problems.

The United Way president is publicizing the number on local radio shows and the United
Way’s latest community services directory features it prominently on the back cover.

There is also an Internet site, 211virginia.org, where a few keystrokes can give anyone
information on assistance.

Shtulman and Ketterman are planning a special event for high school and college students in
April that uses the social media of cellphones to allow the younger generation to talk about
mental illness. It’s called Text, Talk, Act.

Through text messaging, the participants can have a conversation with their peers about a
condition that is often difficult to speak about.

“Our main goal is to get people to talk about this,” Shtulman said.

That’s important, said Ketterman, because the stigma of mental illness keeps families mum
and those suffering from it from getting help.

Ketterman said she had experienced that stigma.

“When I tell people my father died of a brain tumor, I felt sympathy. When I say my mother
has schizophrenia, I feel shame and judgment.”

That shame is a big barrier. Ketterman said it took 14 years to get a diagnosis for her mother
and another decade to get her the proper treatment for her condition.

“I’m so sad,” she said, “That her life’s been wasted.”

While so many more effective treatments are now available, the problem of stigma hasn’t
changed much, she said.

There is much more work to be done.

Shtulman said he’s optimistic that things will change in the Winchester area. It is one of just
five communities nationwide that have held a community dialogue and are working on a
plan.

“People are frustrated by the lack of services,” he said, “And that’s not just in our
community.”

But the reforms will have to start with individuals, he added.

“We have to open their minds and open their eyes,” so they can understand the issue.

“We have to be comfortable enough to talk abut it,” Ketterman added. “Then, we can support
each other and demand something be done at the state and national level.”