By Miranda Reale
KINGSTON – Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan made a proclamation declaring May as Mental Health Awareness Month. The county’s commitment to mental health and mental health services started with a panel presentation hosted by the Heal Well Focus Team of Live Well Kingston last Thursday. Along with the Ulster County Department of Mental Health, The Institute for Family Health, Planned Parenthood of Greater NY, Anahata, and Vet2Vet of Ulster County, the panelists organized an interactive way to learn about the community’s conditions and offered resources by focusing on what Ulster County can do to provide support and services.
Thersa Wildmann, Heal Well Focus Team Chair and moderator of the panel, united community members and leaders to commit awareness and understanding of mental health conditions. She said of the proclamation issued this month: “That at least gives us something to hold them to. You acknowledged this and we want to help our community take care of one another.”
After almost three years of living with Covid-19, the intention behind the gathering focused on collecting comments and questions of attendees; to see and hear what others are experiencing is the first step in offering a remedy to those struggling with their mental health by creating a network of professionals able to offer real steps and solutions. At Heal Well, Wildmann explained how her team has been thinking about the challenges involved with the current climate; whether it is pandemic, politics, finances, family, health– these experiences affect mental health.
Wildmann opened up the discussion, posing a question to the panelists specific to the pandemic. What are specific ways that mental health impacts overall physical health? She asked. Celina Pipman, a practicing psychotherapist in Kingston, responded first saying “mental health is a spectrum and the relationship with the experience doesn’t just affect the person suffering, but those around them as well. The response to mental health conditions are so different, people are ostracized, there is no compassion,” she continued.
Though this spring may have conjured a semblance of relief and normalcy, Vet2Vet Program Director at Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration Gavin Walters spoke of the factors that intensified during the pandemic. “So many layers and so much conversation has come out of the pandemic. It has allowed many to recognize that racism and homlessness is a part of what is going on,” he said. In this regard, Walters said that there could be a whole panel dedicated to impacts of pandemic on mental health, and how intrinsic racism is to that conversation. Going on to describe his own Caribbean upbringing, the ways in which cultural barriers contribute to mental health awareness and care was discussed throughout the panel. Walters also explained that he has had difficulty providing attainable and accessible mental health therapy to Black, Brown, and Hispanic communities in Ulster County. “For a lot of us that live in that community, it’s not ingrained in us. Sometimes we don’t know how to ask for help because it wasn’t something that was brought into a discussion at home or with friends,” he said.
Only the beginning for discussions like this one, Wildmann ended the presentation on a hopeful note. “I know it can seem daunting, but we hope to have planted a seed of hope”, she said. The livestream can be watched on the City of Kingston’s Youtube channel and found via the link: Heal Well Mental Health Panel.