It doesn’t seem so very long ago that words referring to mental illnesses were spoken in whispers and locating resources for individuals and families needing help, hope, and healing became a complex struggle. We still have room to grow, improve, change attitudes, and enhance resources, but we are proud of all the programs and opportunities offered today, as well as the resources available that are fairly recent concepts for Nebraska. We take pride in the opportunities to reduce stigmas and support some of the local organizations, like the following, doing wonderful things.
For example, NAMI Walks for Nebraska will be June 11, 2011 in Elmwood Park in Omaha, with about 700 participants expected. Dollars raised support education efforts including weekly recovery support groups, family-to-family programs that provide information about illnesses of the brain, treatment options, and recovery principles. Peer-to-peer education helps a person with a serious mental illness achieve and maintain wellness, while the NAMI Basics program is developed specifically for parents and other caregivers of children and adolescents who are coping with a serious mental illness or serious emotional disturbance. Knowledge is power; help, hope, and healing come with knowledge and power!
Take Flight Farms in Omaha have been celebrated as a Center of Excellence in equine assisted activities. We have recognized and appreciated their work with those experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault, helping individuals to become trusting and secure people once more. At Take Flight Farms, children and teens have learned the value of friendships and working together; they have seen their own actions and attitudes mirrored in the behavior of the horses, and learned how to modify their own behaviors. This year Take Flight Farms added programs through Children’s Hospital for youngsters with eating disorders, a Respite Care program through Eastern Nebraska office on aging, and programs for military groups, which include equine therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, resilience, and reintegration after deployment. Service men, women, and their families are eligible to take part.
This digital world in which we live can be a puzzle, presenting painful, emotional consequences. Common Sense Media, Omaha Public Schools, and Building Bright Futures presented Omaha’s first Digital Citizenship Week , encouraging us to be the civilizing force in students’ digital world. We are encouraged to raise awareness about the influence of technology on kids, inspiring them to become good digital citizens. Bullying issues, hurtful and demeaning events, understanding how postings can follow a young person well into adulthood, and the effects of the violence expressed in video games on a young person were all components of Digital Citizenship Week. Cyberbullying, using cell phones and computers to hurt, humiliate, and harass is reaching epidemic proportions. Youngsters receive demeaning text messages, embarrassing photos, and snide opinion polls. This type of bullying is constant, pervasive, and public! The depression or anxiety resulting from being bullied or hurt can create emotional damage that lasts a lifetime. One great hint is to remind youngsters that all private information CAN be made public! We encourage readers to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on this topic.
One very special population that has always held our hearts are the children and youth in foster care. In Nebraska there are about 7000 youth in foster care at any one time. If a teen has not had a relationship with their own family, and has experienced 20 – 30 foster homes, who celebrates their birthday, or buys their graduation dress? Who encourages career goals, or models positive family values for them? We’ve learned that three out of 10 US homeless are former foster children, and about a third of former foster children live at or below poverty level.
We were encouraged to learn about the National Foster Youth Action Network, and its role in helping youth learn to advocate for themselves and other foster youth. Youth leaders are learning to affect policy issues at the local, state, and national levels, influencing change for the good of youngsters in foster care. We are extremely proud that through the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Project Everlast has developed to help our local youth have the supports and lifelong connections for successful transition to adulthood. One student commented, “Foster youth age out without knowing what to do in the real world.” Now they are being asked, “What would you like to be in 5 or 10 years?” Foster youth say, “I have other foster youth to talk with who understand my feelings. I’m not just a foster child, but am a person, and people can succeed if they strive to get the most out of life.” We encourage Nebraska foster youth to visit www.nebraskafosteryouth.org.
In closing, I’d like to add a personal note about our family’s young Marine experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. He was hospitalized for several months, and healing has been a struggle. Our Marine recently received a psychiatric service dog, especially trained to work with PTSD experienced by our country’s active duty personnel and veterans. Two years ago, our Not Alone radio broadcast interviewed Dr. Joan Esnayra, who initiated a pilot project at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. regarding the use of psych service dogs, and now we are humbly grateful that, because of the success of Dr. Esnayra’s program, with the encouragement of members of the military command, these especially trained dogs are now bringing hope, help, and healing across the nation to families such as ours. Since acquiring his dog, our Marine seems healthier and stronger in many respects as each week passes.