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MHA forum set at Seton Hill University

Correction- Dr. Joseph P. Perry, of Greensburg, is a fellow and diplomate of the Prescribing Psychologists Register. This does not qualify him to prescribe medications. (09/30/03)

The President’s New Freedom Commission On Mental Health had a lot of recommendations for Congress and communities across America, and the Mental Health Association in Westmoreland County is taking them to heart.

On Oct. 14, the agency will serve as host to Gordon A. Raley, vice president of the Federal Partnership of the National Mental Health Association, who will discuss the national project announced by President George Bush in April 2002.

“The recommendations come from people who were appointed by the president, people who are in the front lines and who are in practice on a day-to-day basis,” Raley said in a phone interview from headquarters in Washington, D.C. “This forum will make a bridge between those national recommendations and local applications.”

The MHA’s 40th annual conference, “A Community Mental Health Forum,” will be held at Seton Hill University, in Greensburg, where in 1965 the agency and the college staged a similar event. It was a time when people with mental illness were often institutionalized and misunderstood.

“We have come so far since then and have learned so much about mental illness and mental health,” MHA Executive Director Laura Hawkins said. “The forum will be an opportunity to let people know where we are going from here, and what resources are available to intervene when someone is in trouble.”

The site was chosen because of the university’s involvement with the previous forum, and because it offers undergraduate and graduate majors in psychology, family and marriage counseling, and art and music therapy.

Mary Ann Gawelek, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Seton Hill, trained as a psychologist 25 years ago. Since then, she has seen improved diagnoses, more treatment options and a better understanding of mental health disorders.

“People are now less frightened to come forth and say that they are struggling with things,” she said.

Eight workshops will feature professionals in some areas that were not common decades ago, for instance, school-based mental health programs. The state now mandates Student Assistance Teams in secondary schools, where staff may recommend a problem student for evaluation.

“They are in key positions to identify problems early and to provide a link to appropriate services,” Raley said.

Lyn Marchwinski, manager of Student Assistance Services at Family Services of Western Pennsylvania in New Kensington, will cover what her agency provides to eight school districts in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, including Burrell, Kiski Area and New Kensington/Arnold.

“The student may be having emotional problems or may not be getting along with peers, or may be disrupting a class,” she said. “Or parents may be starting to see signs that there are problems, or maybe a note is sent home from school.”

John Boylan, assistant principal at Huston Middle School in the Burrell School District, will discuss how the program works there.

“One of the biggest needs right now is that, for better or for worse, schools are more or less expected to raise today’s youth,” he said. “Because so many parents are working, more responsibility is being placed on schools, and schools are happy to undertake it, but it’s a tremendous challenge.”

Staff from the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit will explore strategies for handling special needs students at Clairview School near Greensburg. Although the SAT program is not mandated there, it was recently implemented through St. Vincent College Prevention Projects.

IU behavioral specialist Kelly Huss will tell how the program serves students with autism spectrum disorders, pervasive development disorders and other diagnoses. “We’ll be addressing the academic problems and constant social aspects of students who have difficulty relating to other kids,” she said.

The commission recommends more screening for mental disorders in primary care and across the lifespan, and more connection to treatment and supports.

“People with mental health disorders are routinely seen in primary care settings,” Raley said. “But despite their prevalence, mental disorders often go undiagnosed, untreated or under-treated.”

Joseph P. Perry, of Greensburg, will lead a workshop about anxiety and other disorders; the working relationship between physicians, physician assistants and psychologists; and treatment options in counseling, medication or a combination. He is a member of the American Board of Medical Psychotherapists, and a fellow and diplomat of Prescribing Psychologists.

“About 24 percent of the population has anxiety disorders, from people who maybe continuously worry to some who are traumatized by major events,” he said. “They can go from feeling anxious to not functioning, not even wanting to leave the house.”

Thomas Uhrin, physical and behavioral health coordinator for APS Healthcare, in North Huntingdon Township, will lead a workshop on the connection between hormone disorders and mental health.

“I’ll be talking about the normal regulatory mechanisms that hormones play, and the different kinds of disease states, like thyroid disorders, that can cause things like depression,” he said.

Sam Anderson, director of corporate and community concerns at Gateway Rehabilitation, will be one of the presenters of life management skills in the workplace. The agency has 12 satellite locations to provide Employee Assistance Programs to 80 local businesses. Their counselors address issues that include substance abuse, depression, work stress and personal crises.

“Certainly no one is immune,” Anderson said. “If you are one of the leaders of the corporation (with problems) it can impact the lives of a hundred people, potentially thousands. If you have an alcoholic supervisor with all of the inconsistencies, mood swings and the issues that come with it, you would have a real mess on your hands.”

EAP treatments may involve up to five sessions, with additional referrals if necessary.

“Maybe after they come to us, they become a little more focused and may not need to see a specialist,” Anderson said. “They might just feel overwhelmed and need to talk.”

Nina Denninger, associate professor of art therapy and director of the master’s program in art therapy at Seton Hill, will demonstrate techniques therapists can use to help clients express themselves with creative energy. Professional “organizer” Ro Schmeling will conduct a workshop on achieving peace by eliminating clutter.

The keynote speaker will be Wendy Williams, an Olympic diver who in 1992 was forced into retirement by a spinal injury, a tragedy that made her acknowledge a lifetime of depression. She will talk about how she found treatment, and of her commitment to helping others with depression.

Additional Information:

Details

When: Oct. 14

Where: Seton Hill University, Greensburg

Registration at 12:30 p.m., panel at 1 p.m., workshops at 2:15 and 3:50, dinner at 5:30, keynote speaker at 6:45.

The conference is open to professionals and laypersons.

Cost is $25 for afternoon workshops, $25 for the dinner meeting only, or $35 for both.

Continuing education credits and some scholarships are available.

Reservation deadline is Oct. 10. Information: 724-834-6351.


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