Kenneth Houseknecht asked a room full of about 65 people Tuesday morning if they knew someone who has struggled with depression, alcohol or other drug abuse, or thoughts of suicide.
Almost everyone in the room raised a hand.
Those gathered came to learn more about a new, regional effort to address these challenges: Just Tell One.
Houseknecht, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Erie County, said the effort looks to break the “silence, shame and separation” that mental illness and addiction can bring, particularly among those aged 14 to 26, by encouraging those who are suffering to talk to someone they trust about their fears and concerns.
Those willing to help can do so "with simple little stuff, like listening without judgment,” he said after a press conference in the WNED-TV studio that launched Just Tell One.
The Mental Health Association and the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Millennium Collaborative Care and Community Partners of WNY forged the effort, a public awareness campaign to promote better mental, emotional and behavioral health across the region.
It comes less than a week after U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy reported that one in seven Americans are likely to develop a substance abuse disorder in their lifetime – and only about 10 percent of those people will receive any type of specialty treatment. The report also said that 78 people die every day in the U.S. from opioid overdoses – a fourfold increase since 1999.
“The campaign’s key messages and overall web-based approach are based on significant research that will enable it to connect at the right time with young adult members of the Medicaid community living in underserved urban and rural communities, and most importantly point the way to additional resources that can truly lead to positive, life-changing outcomes,” Michele Mercer said, partly through tears. The Millennium Collaborative Care chief clinical integrations officer explained that her family recently buried a young relative who committed suicide, four decades to the date after another family member was laid to rest because of an alcohol-related incident.
A new website, JustTellOne.org, is the cornerstone of the awareness campaign, said Carol Doggett, Mental Health Association director of community awareness. The site includes short video clips of young people who have struggled with one of the four core challenges addressed in the effort and a list of where those with similar challenges can find help across eight Western New York counties. Also included are video clips and tips that offer loved ones effective ways to help those with challenges. Those without internet service can call (716) 245-6JT1 (6581).
People who struggle will reach out to someone they trust, Doggett and others said.
In Doug Hahn’s case, it was his mom, Stacie McNett.
“She has been amazing,” said Hahn, 19, of the Town of Tonawanda, who was diagnosed with depression at age 9. “Sometimes I don’t know how she’s dealt with all my stuff but she has. It was rocky in the beginning trying to deal with everything because I had no idea what I was going through, and she had no idea. She’s been with me through everything and that’s all I could have asked for.”
Hahn struggled to accept his diagnosis, became more withdrawn, and missed many days in high school, in part because he was often bullied, he said. He persevered, graduated, and now works as a Mental Health Association peer support advisor in the inpatient units at three regional behavioral health centers. He also runs community support groups for teens and young adults – groups that are listed in the calendar section of JustTellOne.org.
Anti-depressant medication, counseling, a good sleep schedule, eating right and exercise are part of Hahn's regimen for a healthy life.
“I’m doing what I love now,” he said. “I’m trying to preach a message of hope.”
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon