Mental Illness

Most racial and ethnic minority groups have similar - or in some cases, fewer - mental health disorders than their white peers. And yet, the consequences of mental illness in minorities may be long-lasting. That’s according to the American Psychiatric Association. The disparities in mental health care for racial, ethnic and religious minorities is real. How is it happening, why is it happening, and what resources are available right here in our community to help combat it? We look into these questions and more on this edition of Need to Know.

Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14. And more than two-thirds of young people report experiencing at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. There are dire consequences to these numbers IF they’re not addressed. As researchers point out, untreated traumatic stress and mental health can lead to school dropouts, suicide and more. For these reasons and others, a number of teens in Rochester are fighting back against these statistics to help their peers not only develop the skills they need to survive but to also provide them with the means to heal. The teens are youth organizers with Rochester’s Teen Empowerment and they’re hosting a series of workshops this summer for teens, by teens addressing trauma and mental health.

While the work to break public stigma of mental illness in our country continues, there’s another issue to address: disparities in mental health care for people of color. The problem and a local solution to the issue on this edition of Need to Know.

Also on the show, trauma and mental illness are plaguing our youth. We’ll hear from teens specifically focused on helping other teens not just survive, but find healing and support from traumatic life experiences.

The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have sparked concern among mental health advocates, who note that celebrity suicides can have a copycat impact on the general population.

Our guests discuss suicide from a range of angles, including the impact of loss on surviving family. In studio:

  • Bill Perun, suicide attempt survivor, past president of NAMI Rochester, vice president of NAMI NYS, member of the NAMI National Peer Council, and certified Peer Specialist for the New York Office of Mental Health
  • Carrie Andrews, survivor of suicide loss
  • Dr. Joe Vasile, M.D., psychiatrist, and president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Independent Practice Association (GRIPA)
  • Megan Clifford, LCSW-R, certified Mental Health First Aid instructor

The Reel Mind Theatre and Film Series is underway. It features films and performances that address the stigma attached to mental illness and behavior disorders, while providing messages of hope.

One of the films in this year's lineup is the documentary, Deej; it tells the story of David James Savarese, a non-speaking young man with autism. Savarese joins us in studio to share his remarkable journey and the challenges he has overcome. Plus, we get a look at what's next in the series. Our guests: 

  • Dr. Larry Guttmacher, M.D., clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and co-director of the Reel Mind Film series
  • David James Savarese, poet, co-producer of Deej, and advocate for people with autism 
  • Dr. Lori Jeanne Peloquin, Ph.D., clinical psychologist in the Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center
  • Lynne Fisher, education program administrator for NAMI-Rochester

New York will become the first state to require mental health education in all grades. Currently, health classes in most schools teach students about physical health, food and nutrition, and substance abuse disorders, but teachers say there isn’t enough of a focus on the impact mental health has on overall wellbeing. That will change after new legislation requiring mental health curricula goes into effect in July.

Experts say the onset of mental illness often begins at a young age, so helping students recognize symptoms and learn coping skills is key.

Our guests weigh in on what they’d like lessons plans to cover, and why they say this legislation is overdue. In studio:  

  • Kristina Mossgraber, events coordinator and walk manager for NAMI Rochester
  • Janine Sanger, coordinator of health and wellness for the Webster Central School District
  • Heather Newton, parent and director of development at Foodlink
  • Tamara Minter, retired Rochester City School District administrator who oversees the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority

Two of the best players in the NBA recently went public about their struggles with mental health. Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers wrote a piece for the Players Tribune in which he opened up about an anxiety attack during a recent game. DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors tweeted and then gave interviews about his long-standing battle with depression. Within days, each player had heard from thousands of fans who decided to finally open up about their own challenges with mental health.

We discuss stigma, opening up, and the difficulty that comes with hiding mental health issues. Our guests:

  • Kristina Mossgraber, events coordinator and walk manager for NAMI Rochester
  • Melanie Funchess, director of community engagement for the Mental Health Association of Rochester
  • Steven Mojsovski, lifelong OCD and anxiety sufferer
  • Desiree Pernaselci, teacher at Greece Olympia High School, and coach of the girls' soccer team and girls' and boys' track and field team

At first glance they appear to be intimate, one-of-a-kind watercolor portraits. But when you read between the lines you see life stories of bravery, pain, hope, and resilience. Charmaine Wheatley is an artist-in-residence at the University of Rochester. For the past year she has focused a portion of her work on reducing stigma of those who live with mental illness. Her process was the subject of a short documentary titled: “Portraits of Life” by Epic 10 Films in association with the UR School of Medicine & Dentistry.

On this edition of Need to Know we learn how a project capturing candid conversations with watercolor help to reduce stigma and empower those living with mental illness.

The British writer Johann Hari has just released a new book about how to treat depression. It's a book that makes a case for a much different approach -- but that's not what is sparking the most controversy. In the book, Hari claims that antidepressants fail the vast majority of the time. He makes statistical claims that have already been essentially debunked. The medical community is concerned that Hari's claims could convince people to stop taking medication, so they're pushing back.

We discuss antidepressants, and a multi-pronged approach to treating depression. Our guests:

  • Eric Caine, M.D., former chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester
  • Christopher R. Noel, PharmD, BCPP, assistant professor of pharmacy practice at St. John Fisher College’s Wegmans School of Pharmacy
  • Eleni Gogos, mental health activist and psychology student at RIT
  • Jordan Dube, mental health activist

This hour, we have a conversation about mental health in the African American community, with a focus on the psychic cost of racism. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Reasons for that disparity include racism, socioeconomic factors, and higher levels of homelessness and exposure to violence. 

The strategy of coping with prolonged psychosocial stress caused by discrimination has a name. It's called "John Henryism." We discuss that this hour, along with a new book highlighting the people who worked to make psychiatry more available to Harlem's black community in the early Civil Rights era. Our guests: