“Mental illness and aging can often be a double stigma. According to the National Council on Aging, the number of Americans 85 and older will triple by the year 2050. Older adults and care partners are less likely to identify a problem as a symptom of a mental health disorder. Furthermore, older adults have high rates of late onset mental health disorders (anxiety/depression) and low rates of identification and treatment. This curriculum module will help existing Adult MHFA Instructors in good standing reach this population with updated prevalence data, a new film, and scenarios.”
I didn’t know until being certified as a Mental Health First Aid Adult Trainer in 2016 that mental health and depression in older adults is often ignored or dismissed. I also didn’t know that among the elderly population, aging white males commit suicide in America at a 98% higher rate than all others. I was actually shocked at first but now understand why (Colorado State University report). “In the United States, older men of European descent (so-called white men) have significantly higher suicide rates than any other demographic group. For example, their suicide rates are significantly higher than those of older men of African, Latino or Indigenous descent, as well as relative to older women across ethnicities.”
Depression is the culprit, especially for those who have difficulty being as opposed to doing. I consider myself in the category of an older white male who loves living in the moment or being, but also thrives in doing the things I care about. When my own retirement became a reality, it was very tough to find the the new chapter of doing something that provided me with the same ego fulfilling experience as did my long corporate and business career. I found after experimenting with volunteer work in the community and public service that making a difference for others gave me the balance needed to thrive and preserve a healthy mind and body. We older Americans, by choice, can map out our lives by being ourselves in the context of all we care about, including pursuing professional and vocational outlets for continued growth and personal rewards. We can also take in the romance and adventure offered in life by fulfilling your bucket list of the amazing places to visit and explore around the globe or at home. There are so many things to do as we age, assuming our good health is maintained.
In terms of mental health awareness, there is a higher probability of achieving and maintaining a healthy frame of mind by staying actively engaged, especially in social groups in the community. Humans are herding beings and starve for social interaction and attention. Humans are not designed to be alone. We are also challenged in today’s world when families become separated by great distances and live their own busy lives. Older adults can become lonely and depressed over time. A healthy body can take a big hit over time if one’s mind becomes depressed. Being alone and less than engaged or active with others can cause a person to stop eating in healthy ways and exercising to stay in good shape. Health issues can take shape gradually by not being active.
Sometimes though it feels like there is no place for us older Americans, so giving up is a risk. There will be starts and stops along this journey of aging, even some failures that are painful or hurtful. But never give up…keep pushing and trying with your heart and mind. Yes, take a break when needed, then try something new. Get engaged with a reset attitude with new goals and opportunities. Never say, “I’m done, it’s over.” It is not in our nature to give up on anybody or anything, so keep on keeping on. We live so much longer now in the 21st Century. We boomers in our 70’s are needed in our community with our exceptional leadership qualities, wisdom, and new energy. My grandson told me several years ago that older adults are needed to mentor the younger generation succeeding us. We are needed, so don’t run away. Get busy and make stuff happen. And don’t forget to create a balance so that the needed nap in the afternoon comes easily. Go on the adventure to Alaska or Australia. Take in the cultural events in your community. Spend quality time with your family and friends and experience all the joys that life has to offer. Remember, getting older is a privilege…many never see the morning sun of old age. We owe to ourselves and others to show the way with our wisdom until the very last day of our lives…
Judy and Steve Sparks, Children and Family Advocates…
Have you ever wondered the real meaning of “I’m fine!”? Pause, pause…
“I’m fine” is the consequence of stigma. Most who suffer from even average emotional challenges are all too often shunned in society. So much so that going untreated and not shared with others will often grow worse.
Other unhealthy ways like alcohol and drugs will be the outlet. And why we as intelligent humans allow this to happen?
We are not open to what is considered a scary and uncomfortable conversation for most. In fact a trigger for others who need to talk in a safe place.
Once untreated serious depressive symptoms appear, suicide becomes a much higher risk, especially for white males in 70s. Find out why?
Please think about the unintended consequences. Ask yourself if your friend, loved one or colleague needs help. Just listen and build trust, no hurry. Take a Mental Health FirstAid USA class. You can make a difference and save lives…
Mental Health First Aid USA training in your local community…
For more than 60 years, May has been nationally recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month.
“Mental wellness is essential for peak cognitive and physical performance and ensures the readiness of our service members. Military Health System (MHS) focuses on the mental wellness of service members, their families, retirees, and DoD civilians. We will highlight the tools and resources available for the prevention and treatment of the DoD community’s overall mental wellness.”
I’m pleased to share that Mental Health First Aid training has become a standard in Lincoln County Oregon and all over America! A gift to a caring and healing community culture. As City Councilor in 2015, I was happy to take the lead to bring Mental Health 1st Aid training to our City of Depoe Bay, Oregon with the help of Lincoln County Health & Human Services. This what has happened since then…the early days… We have come along way as a Trauma Informed Oregon community! Technology makes it possible to deliver programs instantly without waiting for a trainer…a kickstart if you will. Take a listen…
Mental Health First Aid
is an in-person training that teaches you how to help people developing a mental illness or in a crisis.
Mental Health First Aid teaches you:
Signs of addictions and mental illnesses
5-step action plan to assess a situation and help
Impact of mental and substance use disorders
Local resources and where to turn for help
The State of Oregon is making mental health a top priority going forward with a campaign slogan, “Can’t We Do More?” It is the responsibility of local and county government, private, and public leadership to take advantage of this training. I have written previously in this blog about the need to do more in rural communities for mental health awareness... click on highlighted text for more…
You can make a difference in your own community all year by taking a look at the Mental Health First Aid program for your own needs as a business, school or public service organization. Please review the references and resources available and take action. Mental Health 1st Aid is just as critical as getting training for first-aid best practices in general. Lives are saved through a higher level of awareness of all health and wellness challenges in local communities everywhere.
When I was traineded and certified as a Mental Health First Aid Adult Trainer in the fall of 2016, the increased awarenes changed my life forever. I could not only understand my own behavioral health better, I developed a much higher sensitivity, compassion and empathy for those who suffer among us with mental health challenges. As co-workers, peers, and managers, a little kindness and understanding, a calming influence from a culture of caring in the work place will save lives. In my view, ‘suicide prevention’ is the highest priority in Mental Health FirstAid USA. You can make a difference!
Following is an excerpt… This book was written especially for parents, teachers, and caregivers.
“Stigma is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” they say… “After all the research and writing on the subject of PTS/PTSD, including my blog archives with close to 1000 postings offering tons of information about my own experience, references and resources with the goal to help others, the human condition of STIGMA leaves me stone cold and in a quandary. It is clear that we should all seek treatment immediately following a moral injury and living with the awful symptoms of depression and anxiety, including panic attacks. But it would be dishonest for me to suggest to anyone who fears losing opportunities and dreams of career success, especially loving relationships and spiritual growth in life, to ever admit a mental health challenge.”
Dear Friends and Colleagues, and the broader community of healers and beautiful souls I love as we all heal together as a community…
After ten (10) years of researching, writing, collaborating, partnering, crying, laughing, and sometimes yelling, but never the less healing as a community w/love…my body of work is now far more accessible and open for conversation and research.
Please join me as a Sparks/Associate and subscribe to my blog and powerful WordPress platform. I really need your friendship, love and support. Please help me share over 1000 articles and posts that follow my own journey of healing since 2011.
As a social services enterprise, this has been a labor of love, completely funded by my family. I really don’t get into asking for donations, but you certainly can in small amounts. Because of the significant awareness value, I highly encourage buying my books, especially my groundbreaking first memoir, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story, pubished in 2011. Free access to my complete body of work is right here…
Every last one of you have been part of my story, all of you! My new memoir, “Finding My Soul in Icicle Valley” is in the works and coming alive here… I will thank each of you personally over time as my work continues for the benefit of the most vulnerable among us…especially those who are risk of completing suicide and seek hope to have a reason to live another day… Thank you from deep in my soul…
“The book is about the lingering ramifications of his father’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—what the author deems “collateral damage.” The trauma of war was passed down to the second generation—to a son so angry with his father that he didn’t attend his funeral—and even a third generation, as for many years the author passed his own anger and anxiety on to his children. The book is an attempt at catharsis, at coming to terms with that legacy. In this regard, the book succeeds.”
Revisiting the painful past of my own childhood, researching a new awareness of the generational damage of moral injury, and eventually publishing my book, was a highly emotional experience of coming to terms with long standing anger. I had no idea that my family’s story and this blog would help countless others to seek a path of healing through awareness of one family’s 70 year struggle with the effects of PTSD. It is now very clear to me that returning to my childhood and confronting the life-long pain of living in a dysfunctional home, was the key to removing the anger in my heart that persisted for most of my life until age 64. Book reviews such as written in the above link, and others found on my author page, proves the value of awareness as the first step toward healing.
I am so convinced of the value of awareness in healing that my blog is updated almost daily with postings that are relevant to self discovery and effects of moral injury and PTSD. The magnitude and severity of the invisible pain caused from exposure to severe trauma in war as a combat veteran, a 1st responder, and even a private citizen subject to a terrible traumatic event is overwhelming. What is far worse in this circumstance is what happens to children who live with a parent or loved one who suffers from the symptoms of PTSD. As written in my book, the symptoms of PTSD “stick around like bad genes’ if the cycle of pain is not broken. The cycle can only be broken if families and society as a whole become highly aware, sensitive, and vigilant. My family did not have the opportunity to know of our own troublesome and toxic family culture’s lasting effects until many years after the experience when the damage was virtually irreparable for all of us.
Although it has been challenging for my family, it is never too late to begin the journey of healing. Buy my book for yourself or a loved one as a gift. Other similar books about moral injury and PTSD along with references and resources are listed and can be purchased on my blog. Healing is a work in progress. No time is wasted in getting started right now… Click on my book cover on this website and download to your desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone and order a hard copy.
“Imagine a monster puzzle in life that you worked 5 decades putting together without any life skills to start with, a survival mindset. I felt like that “Naked and Afraid” reality show, but on my own, no company, too scared to ask for help, and no moral compass. Think of the wonder of finding that last piece of the puzzel and how profoundly impactful it can be in the later years of one’s life, or anytime for that matter. I never felt this until now. I always wondered why Judy loved puzzles. I love watching her, the patience, focus, and mindfulness attention. I could never do that. Now I know why. My mind was wired for fear from a sickness I never knew about until 30 years later from this moment. Icicle Valley was God’s fork in the road for the Sparks family. Yes! I see this now, and feel it too…”
It gives me huuge joy to share the above excerpt from my new memoir, a work in progress. I just finished a draft of Chapter I! The spirits and my creative juices are flowing and my soul is hungry for spiritual growth. All the angels in my life have gathered and encouraged me to write, and do it now. The words flow from my heart and the deepest places of my soul. I will share excerpts from each new chapter in the coming weeks and months.
I want to engage my friends and colleagues while writing this profoundly touching journey of love and healing for my family. I published my first memoir, Reconciliation, a Son’s Story in 2011 and launched my website Children and Families in Life After Trauma at the same time.
I will not pretend to be a subject matter expert in psychiatry, science, or medicine. I’m proud and privileged to be a survivor of childhood and young adult trauma, abuse and maltreatment. I suffer from a life long mental illness, ‘acute agitated depressive disorder’. As a lay person I help others as a peer, friend and colleague. My work is about community building and healing as a broader collaboration of stakeholders, partners and consumers with a common mission.
My healing journey has indeed entered a spiritual phase now that I feel truly safe. A gift of the spirit life at this time of my life draws me closer to God. I never felt peace of mind until now. It’s a deep feeling in my soul that moves me to a more peaceful place.
My soul is speaking to me. Think it’s a ‘coming home’ feeling in this 30th year of my journey to reconnect my lost soul. You get this, I know.”
Why do millions of aging white males like me love the Obama family? Because we feel their soul, the goodness shines through.
A beautiful family, that’s why! This is a POTUS I admire and miss like millions of people like me. Why do so many of us, including aging white males like me who served America proudly with honor and duty during the Vietnam era love the Obama family? My father served too WWII for all of us to protect our freedoms. Why then would I, like millions of Americans of every age, no matter skin color love this family? Why do I love the Obama family? Because they are decent moral and God loving people.
Obama was a leader who loved all of us, not just some of us. Who out there is going to tell us who we are to love? I could go on. I’m so tired of the hateful rhetoric and the trollers who only look for hate…
Judy and I really loved getting our SamHealthPlan Newsletter this month. The laughter and happiness shown with the couple in the above photo, made us feel warm and fuzzy, a happy place, hope for the future, fun, romance and adventure!
Cheers to all for a week full of laughter and peace of mind…
“Neighbors For Kids is an Oregon nonprofit 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting families in Lincoln County during out-of-school-time hours by providing quality after school and summer programs to pre-school and school-aged children in a safe, affordable, fun learning environment”
As written by Steve Sparks, NFK Board member, including contributions from NFK Board members, staff, students and other stakeholders. The community of Depoe Bay and surrounding areas will be forever grateful for the special contributions of NFK’s original Board and team: Dr. and Mrs. Jack and Maggie Brown and Loretta Hoagland.
The history of Neighbors for Kids and the Kids Zone After-School Program begins on a beautiful afternoon along the Oregon coast while Loretta Hoagland was sitting on her porch overlooking Depoe Bay, the “smallest harbor in the world.” Loretta observed several young teens walking by her home and up the hill. They looked like good kids, dressed nicely, full of enthusiasm, and handsome, probably just got out of school. They were approaching another home up the hill. No doubt they were going to have a fun gathering of friends after school. Loretta always worried about kids not having any place to go or anything to do in this little town 12 miles away from Lincoln City to the north and Newport to the south. But while she watched, something happened as the kids walked to the steps of the home they were approaching. To her dismay, Loretta observed the kids completing a “drug buy!” She was shocked and angry. “This can’t happen in my town!” she wanted to shout. As the true events of this story unfold, it becomes clear that love, faith, big dreams, passion and the determination of ordinary people resulted in what many perceive as a “miracle.”
What happened next is compelling and heartwarming. That moment in time ten years ago changed Loretta Hoagland’s life forever. Loretta couldn’t sit back and allow the town she loved and its future to be turned over to drugs. She was moved so much that she immediately called a meeting at her home with neighbors. That evening almost 20 of her neighbors showed up and demanded to know what the emergency was all about. Neighbors Against Drugs and Alcohol, later known as Neighbors for Kids (NFK) and Kids Zone, was born that evening when residents got together with Loretta and angrily and passionately decided to make a stand against the increasing use of drugs and alcohol by the youth in their town of Depoe Bay. Almost single-handedly, Loretta was on the way to inspiring the entire town of 1200 citizens on the central Oregon coast.
Jack and Maggie Brown
Jack and Maggie Brown always loved the Oregon coast, especially Depoe Bay. This little town with a beautiful small harbor to moor their boat was perfect to start their retirement years. Jack and Maggie had lived in Richland, Washington for 30 years while Jack pursued his career as a nuclear scientist with Battelle Labs. After moving to Depoe Bay, Jack started a rowing club in the harbor offering kids free classes. Both Jack and Maggie heard about the new community action group, Neighbors for Kids, and were instantly drawn to the cause of fighting drugs and alcohol with the idea of giving kids something to do after school.
Our First Location
Although it started with the rowing club, soon the group was offering tutoring along with other activities, and curious kids began to show up after school to find out more. As its popularity grew and news of the after-school program spread, the group of dedicated volunteers was offered the use of part of a small building owned by the City of Depoe Bay. Soon a small nonprofit community service organization was in the making, attracting more kids and supportive parents along with many community volunteers. Eventually the entire 700 square foot building on Highway 101 was turned over to Neighbors for Kids as a gift from the City of Depoe Bay.
Volunteer carpenters and other contractors came in to help remodel the building to make it more suited to serving the needs of an after-school program, including a kitchen area to serve meals. The NFK Board of Directors decided to call the after-school program “Kids Zone.” The program continued to grow, and there was never enough space. Eventually, the Depoe Bay Fire Department had to inform the NFK Board that the fire code would limit the number of occupants in the building. With a growing waiting list and no more space for expansion, “What will we do now?” became the big question for the NFK Board to answer.
The Dream of a New Facility
This is when the scientist in Jack Brown turned a dream of building a big new facility for Kids Zone on the same site as the tiny cinderblock facility into a reality. Jack’s dream was a building that would not only have plenty of space for the after school program but that would also offer the community as a whole the potential for much more. A strategy and plan emerged, and Jack and Maggie Brown led the charge, getting the support of federal, state, county, and local government. Jack Brown’s role on the Depoe Bay City Council was a huge help in getting access to the right people and resources. Dr. Brown describes the NFK vision and evolution in the following way:
NFK began with a dream to give local kids a safe place to go after school and be with adults that deeply care for them. This devotion to kids by adults outside their blood family fulfills one of the key assets identified by the Search Foundation as critical to any child’s development. NFK has grown primarily due to the leadership of several professional directors and the tireless volunteering of local adults that give over 4,000 hours of volunteering each year. This success story motivated Oregon’s congressional delegation, many of the premier grant foundations, state, county, and local governments and private citizens to provide funding in support of NFK’s new building. This new facility combined with our tremendous professional staff and cadre of dedicated volunteers stand proud to serve the children of mid-Lincoln County.
The new facility became a symbol of community vision for the future of NFK. All the memories and successes, especially the stories of kids who benefited, transferred to the new building and served as a foundation upon which the future organization was built. The old building was taken down soon after the new facility opened its doors, but its role in bringing an after-school program to Depoe Bay will not be forgotten. It will always represent the blood, sweat, and tears of many volunteers and donors, including a significant historical event in the community of Depoe Bay and surrounding areas.
NFK’s former Vice-Chair, Steve Scopelleti, was the real hero behind getting the new building completed, and his story of giving back to the community follows. Steve became involved with Neighbors for Kids in the spring of 2008. As it turned out, his background in construction and project management was perfectly suited for NFK’s next big challenge. Steve had experience with a similar project some years previously in St. Louis, Missouri. The welcomed award of significant federal funding through Housing & Urban Development (HUD) meant that NFK now needed to complete the construction of a new 7,000 square foot building for the expanded needs of Kids Zone and to build a foundation for the future of NFK’s larger vision to serve the broader community’s educational needs. Steve believed strongly that this would become his best work, and motivation came directly from his heart and a belief that anything is possible with the right timing, chemistry, and team to pull it off.
The Dream Becomes a Reality
Steve Scopelleti, along with the NFK Building Committee that included Jack Brown as chair, Maggie Brown, Toby Winn, Dee Dee Howard, and Bruce Silver, set about to launch this daunting construction project. The NFK Building Committee knew immediately that finding the right architect to assist with the design of a special building with unique requirements was critical. Steve was appointed Vice-Chair of NFK and project manager for the new building. This new official role gave him the responsibility and authority to move efficiently and quickly to get the project underway. Scott/Edwards of Portland was selected and immediately agreed to provide the design at a 50% discount! Scott/Edwards was also chosen, because they had extensive experience designing buildings for schools with stringent code requirements and special needs to allow for long term occupancy and safety features for children.
The project was broken down into three phases; Phase 1: building the shell; Phase 2: completing the first floor; Phase 3: completing the second floor and parking lot. The plan was to get the building completed for Kids Zone first, move-in, strengthen and expand the after school program, then begin planning for the building’s optimum use in the future, which would require additional funding dictated by the programs that might be offered, such as information technology and science programs. The building was also designed to include a half-court basketball gym and hoops to support basketball and other sports programs as well as providing a large area for group activities, conferences and fund raising events.
The New Facility Opens
The NFK Board and the community as a whole were very proud when the new building was opened to the public in April 2010 with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Some 200 community members and leaders came to the grand opening and many spoke of a dream fulfilled, even a miracle for this small town on the central coast of Oregon. Ordinary people with a passion for helping our kids grow into responsible and caring adults made it happen. Steve Scopelleti believed this was his best work and one on which he could be most proud to have had the opportunity to contribute and make a difference in the community. Doing something good for others and from the heart has no boundaries for personal satisfaction and reward.
Finding the NFK Program Director
Most educators would agree that finding a teacher with empathy, one who has lived through a challenging childhood, and one who has leadership qualities, is a blessing to have on your team. Toby Winn was, and continues to be, our “blessing” as Program Director of Neighbors for Kids.
Toby Winn, an educator from the San Diego area, moved to the Oregon coast 18 years ago while still in high school, when his mother decided it was time for a change. Toby was still living with his mother at the time and felt the change would be good for him too, and he wanted to be supportive. He grew up as a disadvantaged youth who struggled through a life of poverty in a neighborhood challenged with substance abuse and gang activity. Toby was resilient and found the hope and support he needed in a local Boys and Girls Club program and from the coaches of his soccer teams. These formative years helped Toby decide that what he wanted in life was to use his past experiences to become a career youth educator.
After graduating from the University of Oregon with honors, Toby dedicated his life to serving at-risk youth and families in the very programs which had helped to save him and inspire him to succeed. While living in Eugene, Oregon, working for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Emerald Valley, Toby grew into an effective leader, touching the lives of hundreds of children in Lane County. Then, while browsing through the local paper one day, Toby noticed an employment ad seeking a program director for a small after-school program on the central Oregon coast. Toby felt that this job, Neighbors for Kids, “Kids Zone” in Depoe Bay had his name written all over it, so he applied. And Toby got the job! As with Loretta, Jack, Maggie and Steve, this career move would change Toby’s life forever as well.
Toby immediately became a transformative leader for NFK. His leadership and skills in mentoring kids were evident from the start. His energy and enthusiasm was quickly recognized by the NFK Board and the community. NFK at that time didn’t have a whole lot of money, but they were able to carve out a budget to make it work for Toby and a small but dedicated part-time staff that included Ernestina Brady, Amberdawn Howe, Travis Harris and Vivian Arends. But money is never the prime motivator for anyone with a passion for the work they do.
Toby loved his work and adopted the Oregon coast as home for the long term. He and the staff introduced new ideas and improved existing programs. He went to work creating relationships in the community to help build support for Kids Zone. The result was that more kids and parents wanted to be a part of Kids Zone. And more volunteers came forward offering their time and skills. As a result of Toby Winn’s leadership, the talents of Kids Zone’s outstanding staff and the support provided by a visionary NFK Board of Directors, NFK became a well-recognized after-school program in the region.
Strong Community Partnerships
It is our belief that strong community public and private partnerships like Neighbors for Kids are the way of the future. We cannot possibly meet all the challenging community needs relying solely on federal and state government. NFK‘s goal is to join hands with other community members and leaders, including private and public entities, to achieve the long-term goal of building a stronger society by focusing on our most valuable resource, our children.
Communities must take a more proactive role in improving the educational opportunities and personal growth of its next generation of adults. Our future depends on what we do to make a difference for our kids in our respective communities. We know that public schools can’t do it all, especially with ever-increasing financial challenges.
There is a critical three-hour time slot after school for most children. Research and experience suggests this three-hour period can be the most dangerous and unproductive time of the day for children who cannot participate in after school sports or other structured programs. After-school programs can be tailored to local needs and have proven to be a complementary adjunct to the public school learning experience.
We know our kids do better all the way around when after-school programs are offered. And with additional community support and funding, the building and facilities for after-school activities can be used more effectively by offering educational and recreational programs for all ages for the entire day, including evenings and weekends.
The miracle of this story is all about ordinary people coming together to create a better environment for kids. All it took was the courage, passion, and perseverance of one citizen like Loretta Hoagland, who took ownership of a potentially serious problem in this small town of Depoe Bay where kids bus 12 miles to public school. If it can happen in Depoe Bay, it can happen anywhere in the country.