New Partnership Extends the Reach of Mental Health Services

Freedom House Recovery Center has provided substance abuse treatments in Chapel Hill for more than 40 years. Mental Health America of the Triangle has supported mental health needs for more than 50 years. With these long track records, they figured it was time to team up.

“We will be able to add some of our staff’s skills with regard to parenting and advocacy with some of the things that Freedom House has been doing,” said Marci White, the executive director for Mental Health America of the Triangle.

She says by joining forces with the Freedom House Recovery Center, they can reach more people in need.

“As mental illness has become more and more prevalent, and there are fewer and fewer services, it’s not unusual at all that individuals turn to substances.”

Merging the two organizations will help provide holistic care for people who suffer from both substance abuse and mental health issues. White said the two often go hand in hand.

“Last year, Freedom house served more than 14,000 individuals with substance abuse and mental health needs. It’s becoming more and more rare that there’s not some kind of mental health connection with many of the substance use disorders.”

The need to address both issues is a public health concern, White says, and should be funded accordingly. The North Carolina General Assembly is considering cutting $262 million in “single stream funding,” which supports people who are uninsured or under-insured and in need of mental health services. White says this threatens the stability of individual organizations, making the merge of Mental Health America and Freedom House essential to consolidating funds and quality services.

“The more that we have more agencies such as Freedom House in combination with our services that are doing more integrated services, the more people see the need to treat and provide services for the whole person.”

White says one of the organization’s biggest goals is to increase awareness and understanding of the issues.

“The more that individuals see it as something that my friend, my neighbor, my uncle, my spouse, or even myself struggles with, then we de-stigmatize that and can help other people become brave enough to seek help.”

Those seeking help without adequate healthcare coverage can find free services and counseling in the new, and twice as large Freedom House, White says.

“We really do see this as an opportunity for us to broaden our collective communities of support and let’s have more conversations about these issues because they affect all of us day in and day out.”

More information about Freedom House can be found on their website.

UNC Researcher Explores The Benefits Of Yoga For Mental Illness

Interest is growing in using yoga as a possible treatment for those suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or PTSD.

But research done at UNC suggests that while there are health benefits related to yoga, there is not enough evidence to support it as a solution to mental health problems.

“As a standalone treatment right now, it’s just not viable,” said Leslie Roach, a certified yoga instructor who co-authored the study. “However, I think with more education, more research, and more experienced instructors, it will be.”

The research looked at 13 literature reviews to conduct a meta-review of 185 articles published between 2000 and 2013.

They found that yoga holds potential promise for helping improve anxiety, depression, PTSD or the psychological consequences of trauma at least in the short term.

“Even though I do think yoga is, in general, incredibly beneficial, I also think there needs to be a whole lot more education about how to use yoga specifically to treat survivors of trauma in order to be the most effective and helpful,” Roach said.

Roach and UNC researcher Rebecca Macy are considering several possible future studies, including one that would examine the use of yoga within a rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter.

Funding for Mental Health Drops in NC

North Carolina has reduced its funding for mental health services for the third year in a row, according to a recent report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI. North Carolina is one of only three states that have continued to decrease funding over the last three years; the other two are Alaska and Wyoming.

Jack Register, executive director of NAMI North Carolina, says the state might disagree that funding has declined. The report considers what services the money is used for, not just how much.

”So in this report what it is really looking at is just state dollars, what is the actually state money that’s been put or has not been put into community-based services and that’s where North Carolina has really fallen short,” says Register.

This year over 100 million dollars was cut from organizations that manage the local distribution of Medicaid services throughout the state.

Local Democratic NC House Representative Verla Insko says, “they have increased funding to offset some of [the cuts to Medicaid] but they tend to increase funding for residential services and what we really need to do is fund community-based services.”

Those residential services are things like psychiatric hospitals and prisons, which also serve people with substance abuse issues, not just mental illness.

An example of a community-based service would be a local psychiatrist that someone could see on a regular basis.

Insko says, often, the mentally ill don’t have a lot of advocacy and, therefore, lack much influence in the budget process. And because of that they can suffer.

“My impression is that it is easier to reduce funding for populations that are relatively weak, they’re not powerful populations,” says Insko.

Insko does not support using state funds to build new mental hospitals, even though she says in the past this was one of the best ways to treat the mentally ill. She says now there are medicines and practices that can keep the mentally ill away from these institutions in the first place.

“This year we are opening a 72-bed mental health unit in central prison,” says Insko. “It’s not a good use of tax-payer dollars, and it’s certainly not a humane way to treat out mentally ill population.”

For Register, consistent access across the state and improving treatment for rural communities are also big issues.

“What I tell folks is this, if you break your leg in your way home in a car accident, you’re going to get your leg set and treated in the local community. And you’ll be home within in a few hours depending on how bad it is,” says Register. “If you have a psychiatric crisis, depending on where you are in the state, your zip code is going to depend on what happens and lord forbid you might end up in jail first. That’s unacceptable.”

Register says the first step is to start treating mental illness like we do other chronic diseases and move away from a system that treats the mentally ill only when they have a crisis.

“If it’s really more of a crisis response locally, then we haven’t really done anything to change the conversation,” says Register.

Regardless of how much money is spent, advocates say it is the type of services and how beneficial they are that truly makes a difference to the mentally ill population in North Carolina.

The full National Alliance on Mental Illness Report can be found here: NAMI- State Mental Health Legislation 2015

Fight For Mental Health Goes Through Faith Communities

The organization Faith Connections on Mental Illness is holding its fifth annual conference in Chapel Hill next Friday, April 10, highlighting its work in the area to “improve perceptions and provide resources to those who need information about mental illness.”

Amy Simpson will deliver the keynote at Friday’s conference; she’s the senior editor of Leadership Journal and the author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry. Other speakers include Alan Johnson, the co-founder of Interfaith Network on Mental Illness; Shelly Danser of Mental Health America of the Triangle and UNC Schizophrenia Research Center director John Gilmore.

The conference runs from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. Among other things, it’s designed to help faith communities start their own mental health ministries – as churches and other faith communities can be invaluable in the ongoing struggle for mental health.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Miriam Fahrer and David Chapman of Faith Connections on Mental Illness.

For more information and to register for the conference, visit Registration is $35.

To learn more about Faith Connections on Mental Illness, visit

How To Help Family Members With Mental Illness

Do you have a close family member struggling with mental illness?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is offering a 12-week series of free classes beginning this Thursday, for family members of people living with major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, panic disorder, OCD, or borderline personality disorder.

It’s called the “Family-to-Family Education Program,” co-taught by Dana Greenwood and Tana Hartman-Thorn.

Visit this link for information about the class.

Classes take place at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill, from 6:00-8:30 p.m. on Thursdays beginning September 4.

Dana Greenwood and Tana Hartman-Thorn joined Aaron Keck on “Aaron in the Afternoon” earlier this week to discuss the class – and the importance of the issue.

For more information – or to register for the class – contact Dana Greenwood at 919-622-3795 or by email at

Slow Down.


I do not handle stressors as well as I should.

There, I said it.

Those who know me well would dispute that statement, saying I am a calm and collected individual.  My grandfather once told me, “Never let them see you sweat.” Sound advice — which has certainly been internalized in my case. When it comes to stress management though, it becomes a façade. I may look collected on the exterior, but there are times when I let stress build up to levels that are damaging to both my mental and physical health.

I bet you don’t handle stressors well either.

A 2004 article in the academic journal Occupational Health presents the idea that information overload is the culprit explaining why mental health problems are just as prevalent, if not more prevalent, than physical health problems in society today. It makes sense, let us take a look:

When was the last time you took a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood, just to get some fresh air? When was the last time you sat watching the sun set over the horizon? When was the last time you sat in complete silence for even just a handful of minutes?

Please do not feel that I am calling you — the reader — out, for it has been far too long since I have participated in any such activity myself. Humans today are on the go. We have important things to do and important people to see (or so we tell ourselves). We work overtime, use electronics incessantly, stay out too late, and piece together our lives on a whim. Another way to say it: We skimp on sleep, get by with coffee, never turn our minds off, and never slow down. We are constantly stimulated, and have been socially conditioned to believe this is the way things should be.

I disagree.

In addition to information overload, I believe we have developed poor mental “nutritional” habits as well.  Think of mental nutrition similar to physical nutrition — you are what you eat. Put nutritious food into your body, health follows.  Put engineered food-like products into your body, things go downhill quickly.  The same can be said of our minds.  Do you fill your mind with positive thoughts? Do you listen to and read positive and thought provoking commentary and ideas? Do you surround yourself with uplifting individuals?

Unfortunately, this is not often the case. I will provide one prevalent example: the news.  The majorities of people I interact with on a daily basis are fairly up to date with, and watch, newscasts on television. Modern day newscasts are heavily threat-based, and this is what hooks us. Human beings are hard-wired to pay attention to threats in our environment; it is very pro-survival. Now it mainly creates a large quantity of negative stress in our lives. Let us not get started on commercials and advertisements.

A 2007 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine showed that watching a mere 15 minutes of a nationally broadcasted newscast increased levels of anxiety and perceived stress in individuals for up to an hour after watching.  Consider that many people watch or read the news multiple times each day.

Many studies have shown that these modern stressors we deal with have negative impacts on our health, both mentally and physically.  Humans who report high levels of perceived stress are more likely to suffer from depression & anxiety, get sick more often, have higher risks of metabolic diseases, and are more likely to abuse alcohol.  None of this sounds like fun to me.

I have presented to you quite the conundrum, but have not provided a solution.  The first step in managing stress comes from the awareness that is indeed a real problem for each and every one of us, and there are consequences for not handling it effectively.  I will discuss some ideas on how to effectively manage stressors in your life next time around, but for now I leave you with two simple challenges.

  1. Do not watch television for one 24 hour period. Take note of how you feel during that time.
  2. At some point in the next week, stop everything you are doing and take three deep breaths. Take note of how the breath feels, and how you feel afterwards.

Until next time I will do my best to slow down and relax. I hope you do the same.


1. Donkersly, T. An interview with Dr. Andrew Weil. 2012.

2. Hammen C, Kim E, Eberhart N, Brennan P. Chronic and acute stress and the prediction of major depression in women. Depression & Anxiety. 2009;26(8):718-723.

3. Holland E. Stress substantially slows human body’s ability to heal. Ohio State Research News. 2005.

4. Info overload causes mental problems. Occupational Health. 2004;56(7):11.

5. Rod N, Grønbæk M, Schnohr P, Prescott E, Kristensen, T. Perceived stress as a risk factor for changes in health behaviour and cardiac risk profile: a longitudinal study. Journal of Internal Medicine. 2009;266(5):467-475.

6. Szabo A, Hopkinson K. Negative psychological effects of watching the news in the television: relaxation or another intervention may be needed to buffer them. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2007;14(2):57-62.

Image via Deja Photo from Lens to Picture