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­­­­­­­­­­­­Our Minds Matter

Stigma no more: mental health is just as important as physical health

In this chapter, we address several facets surrounding mental wellness: conditioning it, feeding it, optimizing it and knowing when to ask for help.

We feature a 10-year-old girl whose personal experiences and family dedication are helping meet the needs of at-risk or untreated children in Collier County.

We provide numerous ways to address habits that harm your mental health, how to maximize empathy and five steps to enhancing well-being in the community.

Prince Harry once described mental health struggles this way: “The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.”

 

CHAPTER 85

 
 
 

FEATURE

Chloe’s Choice

Family’s needs, dedication create a special fund for NAMI Collier

by Kathy Grey

Naples resident Rosemary Pace was tapped to become a board member at the nonprofit NAMI Collier County, part of the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, National Alliance on Mental Illness. Putting her influence and magnetic spirit to use, she and a team of friends raised more than $250,000 over the course of 15 years for NAMI Collier’s annual mental health awareness walk. 

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Chloe Berkowitz is flanked by Erika Garcia and Adriana Gyorkos, H.U.G.S. system navigators.

So passionate was Pace about NAMI’s mission, it became a family passion for her daughter, Alexis Berkowitz’s family, including children, Chloe, 10, and Henry, 14. The Berkowitz family resides in New York, but they visit Naples frequently, and were there to hear Pace deliver a speech at NAMI’s 20th annual Hope Shines mental health awareness walk in January.

 

But it was just a year before, in January 2021, that Pace’s granddaughter, Chloe, “hit rock bottom,” her mother says. It was during one of the pandemic waves that Chloe panicked about going to school, became increasingly insecure and experienced a crippling fear of the unknown. Chloe suffered from debilitating anxiety and a compulsive disorder that interfered with school and the family’s daily life.

Berkowitz wondered if there was something going on with Chloe academically. Was the curriculum getting harder? Was this extreme social anxiety? The COVID vaccine was becoming available, but restrictions continued to be enforced at school, with desk spacing, Plexiglas shields, no games at recess and mask requirements. Berkowitz wondered, “Is it the pandemic or more than that?”

With the help of therapies and medication, Chloe’s symptoms quieted a bit, but Berkowitz fretted about how Chloe would cope in the upcoming summer sleep-away camp. Turns out, Chloe had the time of her life, feeling comfortable, safe and happy.

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“Sometimes when you’re busy all the time, those negative feelings go away,” Berkowitz reasons. “But Chloe had a tough adjustment returning to home life and having alone time.”

 

That fall was turbulent for Chloe and her family. Berkowitz decided to take Chloe to visit her mother in Naples during Christmas break, staying for the NAMI walk. She wanted Chloe to experience the walk in a therapeutic way and, of course, hear her grandmother’s address to the crowd.

Before they left New York, though, a friend asked to donate to the walk, which inspired Berkowitz to ask other friends. The response was so positive, she created a NAMI team with a link for donations.

“I thought people would give $5 or $10. No, people were giving $50, $100, $200,” she says. Ultimately, with matching donations, team Chloe’s Choice raised $9,000 for NAMI Collier, and Chloe was a surprise guest speaker at the event.

“She courageously shared her story with the crowd and took a stand for the importance of early intervention and accessibility to mental health services for all children who need it,” Berkowitz says.

The money raised would go to NAMI’s Health Under Guided Systems (H.U.G.S.) program, which addresses the needs of children in Collier County at risk of or with social, emotional or behavioral health problems.

Summer camps, after-school programs, art therapy, karate, dance and more were literally Chloe’s choice, and H.U.G.S. was a good fit.

“By accident, we created this team and raised this money for kids to experience things that helped Chloe,” her mother says.

NAMI Collier’s CEO Pamela Baker was so impressed by Chloe’s eagerness to give back that Chloe’s Choice is now a permanent fund, to which donations will be accepted year-round.

SELF CARE

Easing Senior Caregiving Burnout

Aging plans help alleviate burnout in family and loved ones

by Annalee Kruger, Care Right, Inc. Founder 

Caregiving starts out manageable, but often becomes overwhelming, with burnout, resentment and feeling the emotional, physical and financial toll of family caregiving.

Checking in on your loved one is one thing. But, in time, you may find yourself providing increasing care, like dressing, bathing and toileting. Your loved one may have dementia, develop unsafe behaviors and will need help with attending doctor appointments, paying bills, talking with insurance companies, scheduling meetings with attorneys, financial planners and other professionals.

Frequent hospitalizations are common as our parents age, and they must have an advocate when in the hospital or senior care setting. Families adjust their lives, careers and relationships to give care, and that impacts emotional and physical well-being.

In a National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute survey, 40% of caregivers felt emotionally stressed. Almost 20% said it caused financial problems, and about 20% felt physically strained.

Unfortunately, most families do not think about developing a proactive aging plan. Ninety-two percent of families come to me in crisis — emotionally and physically burned out, with significant wedges in their family relationships.

These issues weigh heavily on adult kids’ minds: “Why aren’t my siblings helping me more?” “How can I take care of someone who wasn’t the best parent?” “How can I care for someone when I live so far away?” “How am I supposed to help my parents when they won’t share information with me?” “I didn’t retire just to spend my time taking care of mom.” “I don’t know how to take care of someone with dementia or other chronic disease.”

“What am I going to do?”

The average caregiver spends 22 hours per week taking care of their loved one, and that’s when things are going relatively well. Consider having two aging parents whose health conditions decline at the same time. Caregiving can quickly become a full-time job.

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As adult kids, we usually want our parents to be happy, safe and have the best quality of life and care possible. Seniors generally want to age at home as long as possible, and they also claim they don’t want to be a burden on their kids. Yet, burned-out adult kids are the ones who contact me at Care Right for an aging plan and other solutions. Often, these kids have been their parents’ “assisted living” for months or years and have finally realized what they are doing is not sustainable.

Caregiver.org reveals that between 40-70% of son-and-daughter caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression and insomnia, with strained marriages. They feel like their life is out of control and harbor anger and resentment about what their lives have become.

These adult kids are immediately relieved to realize the solution is an aging plan. Caregiving can be a pleasant experience when a proactive aging plan — a road map for short- and long-term care needs — is in place to provide peace of mind.

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With tools families need to develop an aging plan, Annalee Kruger’s book, “The Invisible Patient: The Emotional, Physical and Financial Toll on Family Caregivers,” is available on Amazon, Kindle and Audible. Visit www.CareRightInc.com to learn more.

DLC offers a variety of awareness and prevention programs that can help bridge the gap between mental health and the community, including:

 

• Adult Mental Health First Aid from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Friday, June 24 and

 

• Youth Mental Health First Aid from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Friday, July 29.

 

Through this interactive training, attendees will learn to identify concerns and risk factors. By focusing on real-life scenarios, participants will develop and practice the skills learned to support and intervene in crisis situations.

 

To learn more and to register, visit DLCenters.org/mhfa.

ADVOCACY

Minding All Minds

David Lawrence Centers offers five steps to supporting community well-being

by Scott Burgess, David Lawrence Centers CEO

Mental health is an incredibly important part of overall health. In 2021, David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health (DLC) provided a record-breaking number of services — a number that has risen year over year as the crises of mental health and addiction rage on during unprecedented times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prioritizing mental wellness has never been more critical to better ensure our community is healthy, well and safe. DLC’s community-wide campaign, “Mind Your Mind in 2022,” encourages the community to participate in a month-by-month approach to mental wellness — promoting acceptance, awareness and openness. It begins with each of us and, as a community, we can establish a common goal to prioritize mental health.

Importantly, when we care about ourselves, we can care for others, too.

The Mind Your Mind initiative focuses on a new topic each month, ranging from workplace wellness to senior mental health. This regular approach to community mental wellness provides resources, positive content, tips and exercises for enhanced mindfulness and well-being. Additionally, opportunities are presented to support community mental health at home, school and the workplace.

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In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, DLC is sharing content and opportunities to mind all minds within the community. Consider taking these five steps to support community well-being.

1. Practice self-care.

Care for your mental health by taking the time to de-stress and relax. Engaging in a healthy self-care routine — including regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, meditating or practicing yoga — has been proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression, lower stress, improve concentration, minimize frustration and anger, increase happiness, improve energy, and more. By using healthy practices to cope with emotions and challenges, you will be better prepared to care for others and face difficulties.

2. Educate yourself.

They say knowledge is power, and there is a lot to learn when it comes to mental health. Knowing what to do and where to go when help is needed is a good place to start. Learn the signs and symptoms of common mental health concerns so that they can be addressed as early as possible. You can also identify challenges your community faces in addressing mental health, such as state and local funding challenges, and making a difference when the time to vote comes.

3. Share what you learn.

We all know the value of word of mouth. Openly and objectively talking about mental health contributes to breaking the stigma. By sharing a statistic, an available resource or a common concern, you are shining the light on a national challenge. Reassure others that it is OK to seek assistance for mental health concerns.

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David Lawrence Centers’ “Mind Your Mind in 2022” encourages the community to participate in a month-by-month approach to mental wellness.

4. Have the courage to talk about you.

Internalizing emotions can lead to being guarded and pushing others away. This intensifies those feelings, and we can begin to feel isolated and alone. It can be a challenge to face our emotions and talking about them can be even more difficult. However, confiding in others and asking for help can bring connection, compassion and comfort.

5. Have purpose and become an advocate.

Research shows that having a purpose can promote good health, happiness and longevity. By supporting organizations through volunteering, donating, attending a fundraiser or spreading awareness, you can help yourself and others.

Together, we can realize our shared vision of a nation in which anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy and fulfilling lives by raising awareness, fighting stigma, educating the public and advocating for support for people with mental illness and their families.

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Scott Burgess is a licensed professional clinical counselor and CEO of David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health, Collier County’s only comprehensive, not-for-profit behavioral health provider serving children, adults and families. To learn more visit, DLCMindYourMind.org.

EXPERT TIP

Maintaining Natural Appearance

When should I start injectable treatments

by Dr. Kiran Gill

When the crease between your eyebrows, signs of crow’s feet or lax facial areas (cheeks, under the eyes, jawline) begin to bother you, it’s a good time to explore injectable treatment options.

Neurotoxins help to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles and dermal fillers can restore facial contours.

Some patients begin injectable treatments in prejuvenation, before experiencing signs of aging.

Regardless of age, the best approach is to consult an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon who can ensure natural-looking results.

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Kiran Gill, M.D. is the founder of Naples Aesthetic Institute – Boutique Plastic Surgery and Skin Spa. A leading plastic surgery practice in Southwest Florida, the practice is located at 6610 Willow Park Drive, Suite 104, Naples. To learn more, call 239-596-8000 or visit www.kirangillmd.com.

 
 

EMPOWERED LIVING

Maximizing Hardwired Empathy

Seven ways to develop empathy to its full potential

by Kimberly Blaker

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes. It’s similar to sympathy but empathy goes a step further. It’s the ability to experience or relive the feelings of another. When you empathize, you’re able to focus on the emotions of that person. Empathy increases your ability and likelihood to help someone.

According to neuroscientists, 99% of us are born brain-wired with the capacity to empathize, but most don’t fully develop or use empathy to its potential.

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Empathy provides us the ability to act kindly toward others, to forgive family and friends and to bond with others over their ups and downs. Without the ability to empathize, it would be difficult to form and maintain friendships, get along with others at school, work or in society.

 

Here are seven ways to enhance your hardwired ability to empathize:

Engage in Active Listening

A crucial component of empathy, active listening means really listening to each other and trying to understand the other's perspective. Active listening includes paying close attention to body language and facial expressions, so you can better understand the other person. It also requires refraining from interrupting.

Give Back

Think about the experiences, feelings and needs of those who are less fortunate. Consider various forms of adversity, such as kids with a terminal illness, the homeless, poor families and those in nursing homes. If you have kids, have them consider how it feels to be in those other people’s shoes. Then make a plan to help out in some way.

 

Share in Excitement and Joy

Empathy isn’t only about understanding people’s downs. It’s also the ability to share in their happiness. When someone is excited about something, take a moment to really share in their enthusiasm.

 

Seek Commonalities

Despite the ability to empathize, studies have found people are often less empathetic toward those of other races or who are stereotyped in some way. Consider all the things you have in common to improve your ability to empathize with them.

Lose yourself in fiction

This is a great way to experience and understand another, even though the characters are fictitious. It will improve your ability to empathize in real-life situations. If an elderly person is struggling to load heavy groceries into the car, put yourself in their shoes, and offer to help. This also sets an excellent example for kids.

Practice reading faces

People often don’t share what they're feeling or experiencing, yet it’s often written on their faces. Pay attention to people's expressions, and try to understand what they’re feeling.

Look for opportunities to care

Every day there are people all around us in need. Keep your eyes open for ways you can show them your care.

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Freelance writer Kimberly Blaker also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera, and more at sagerarebooks.com.

Berkowitz is busy growing the brand with logoed T-shirts, baseball hats, sweatshirts and happy-face art and forming relationships with sponsors who handle merchandising, with proceeds benefiting Chloe’s Choice.  

“My grandma spoke at the walk, and I thought, if she could do it, I could do it,” Chloe says. “I hope others will step in my shoes and say, ‘If this girl can do it, maybe I can, too.’”

MIND MATTERS

Healthy Brain Lifestyle 

Thirteen habits that can harm your mind’s health

by Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D.

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The human brain is a very delicate part of a human being, and damage to the brain can lead to a number of health complications. The habits below can hurt your brain. Fortunately, risks can be mitigated by some basic lifestyle changes.

Skipping Breakfast: People who do not eat breakfast will have a lower blood sugar level. This leads to an insufficient supply of nutrients to the brain, causing brain degeneration over time. Getting the nutrients your body and brain need is important for memory, as the brain and neurotransmitters have all the elements they need to function properly, which may help in memory and other cognitive functions.

Overeating causes hardening of the brain arteries, leading to decreased mental power. That’s what brain scientists have concluded after comparing studies of overeating with studies of drug addiction. There’s growing evidence that overeating sweet or fatty foods can cause long-term changes in the brain circuits that control eating behavior.

Smoking causes brain shrinkage and may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Nicotine stimulates areas of the brain to release neurotransmitters that influence mood, appetite and feelings of pleasure. Smoking increases blood pressure, putting the brain at risk of stroke. The brain cells that are normally fed by oxygen-rich blood die from a lack of oxygen to the area.

High sugar consumption will interrupt the absorption of proteins and nutrients, causing malnutrition. It may also interfere with brain development. 

Air pollution decreases the supply of oxygen to the brain, bringing about a decrease in brain efficiency. Researchers have known since the 1970s that high levels of air pollution can harm both cardiovascular and respiratory health, increasing the risk of early death from heart and lung diseases. Now, evidence is mounting that dirty air is bad for your brain as well; that high levels of air pollution may damage children’s cognitive abilities, increase adults’ risk of cognitive decline and possibly contribute to depression.

Sleep Deprivation: Sleep allows our brain to rest. Long-term deprivation from sleep will accelerate the death of brain cells. Since 1896, hundreds of studies have established that sleep loss impairs various cognitive functions and behavior, including arousal, attention, cognitive speed, memory, emotional intelligence and decision-making.

Lacking in stimulating thoughts may cause brain shrinkage. Rich and inspirational thinking is the best way to train the brain.

Alcohol impacts the brain’s chemical reactions and can ruin the organs, primarily the nervous system, the liver and the heart. Alcoholism also kills neurons and reduces the speed with which nerve impulses are transmitted. Alcohol quickly enters the bloodstream and is then carried throughout the body, affecting the brain and other tissues until it is completely metabolized.

Constantly checking your phone is a hurtful habit. It doesn’t allow us to sit with our thoughts. Mindless checking of our screens promotes the expectation of immediate gratification and a difficulty handling negative states of mind organically. A De Montfort University study also found that checking your phone constantly can make you more distracted and forgetful.

Spending too much time inside and the lack of sunlight and vitamin D can contribute to depressive symptoms. According to Harvard Health, light and outdoor exercise has been linked to better mental health, from mood to concentration.

Lack of Exercise: Exercise can prevent memory loss as we age, says a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Neurotransmitters in the brain play an integral role in mood and state of mind, and the neurotransmitter dopamine is influenced by the amount of exercise.

Dehydration interferes with our energy levels, mood and ability to think well. Since the brain is mostly water, the rest of our body borrows some of the brain’s fluids, causing the cells to wither, shrink and give us headaches. The key is to drink before you feel thirsty. Carry a water bottle with you and eat fruits that are naturally full of water. 

Recreational drugs “fry” the brain, triggering the reward pathway that triggers addiction, resulting in altered serotonin and dopamine levels.

Heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine age the body rapidly because of the effects of the drugs and the high concentrations of toxic chemicals in them. These drugs also weaken your immunity and make you more susceptible to serious infections. Drugs like ecstasy and crack can permanently alter mood and cause anxiety, insomnia and restlessness while increasing the risk of developing mental illness later in life.

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New York City-based neuropsychologist and school psychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez is the director of Comprehend the Mind and the director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C. She is currently a teaching faculty member at Columbia University.

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