When Jasmine Cruz, MHVC Senior Human Resource Specialist, introduced a “Mental Health Moment” during weekly team meetings, she was hoping to start a conversation. It was so well received that it is now a regular part of the meetings and, more importantly, part of the vocabulary at MHVC. “Starting the conversation was the goal,” Cruz said,”and now the number of us having that conversation has grown exponentially.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but this year MHVC put the spotlight on the first week of October, which was Mental Health Awareness Week, and October 10th, 2018, which was World Mental Health Day.

“Having the conversation is very healthy, but organizations need to provide a safe environment and make the time to talk. We also need to change the language we use around the issue so it is more positive,” said Cruz. “There are a lot of hashtags — including #timetotalk — that give ideas on how to get started.” Another theme is, “it’s okay not to be okay” — especially in the workplace. Cruz continued, “Everyone thinks they always have to be happy, but they don’t. We need to show them how to navigate that and to be mindful.”

At MHVC, Cruz provides exercises for what staff can do — there is something different every week. “For example, we dedicate 10 minutes in our weekly team meetings to talk about stigma, workplace wellness and ways to continue the conversation.” More than conversation and resources, MHVC is training partners on how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in their communities. In collaboration with the National Council for Behavioral Health, MHVC hosted an instructor training on Adult Mental Health First Aid, October 17-19, 2018. All 12 participants in the training are now certified to teach the eight-hour curriculum.

“We want to keep the conversation and ideas fresh, so that May 2019, Mental Health Awareness Month, becomes a real PPS-wide effort, building on all of this work,” concluded Cruz. You can share your initiatives on mental health awareness with Cruz, jascruz@montefiore.org, and she will post them on the website to inspire others.

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