Author Archives: Erin Erickson

Mental Health Minnesota Announces “CONNECT” Initiative to Fight Social Isolation

Mental Health Minnesota is pleased to announce the kick-off of CONNECT, an initiative aimed at fighting the social isolation many people in Minnesota are feeling as a result of social distancing/COVID-19.

The CONNECT initiative provides social connections by phone between volunteers and people who may be struggling with social isolation, loneliness, stress, anxiety or worry during the social distancing related to COVID-19. In addition to connecting, volunteers will also be able to provide people with information and resources to help address any mental health concerns if needed.

Long-term social isolation and/or loneliness can be detrimental to both mental health and physical health, according to a number of studies, one of which noted that the impact of long-term loneliness on physical health was equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

“For many people across Minnesota, social distancing and “staying at home” is increasing levels of anxiety, stress, and worry. It’s our hope that our organization and volunteers can help address that,” said Shannah Mulvihill, Mental Health Minnesota’s executive director. “We’re all making big adjustments in our lives, and it’s really difficult. But social distancing does not have to mean social isolation and loneliness.”

Anyone in Minnesota can sign up to receive phone calls from Mental Health Minnesota volunteers at Those interested in serving as volunteers can also sign up on the organization’s website.

Discover more mental health and COVID-19/social distancing resources. 

Minnesotans Encouraged to Take Care of Mental Health During Social Distancing

As the number of COVID-19 cases increases daily in Minnesota, across the United States and around the world, so do levels of anxiety, stress, and worry. For many, these feelings are compounded by social distancing.

It’s important to protect the health and safety of everyone, and the only way to do that is to prevent and slow the spread of the disease through social distancing and other quarantine measures. Yet while we protect our physical health during this pandemic, we can’t forget to address our mental health.

“Nationally, online screenings for anxiety have increased by nearly 20% over the last few weeks, and for many, social distancing inevitably means isolation and loneliness,” said Shannah Mulvihill, Mental Health Minnesota’s executive director. “It’s essential that people take care of their mental health as well as their physical health at this time, and we are working to share information, resources and suggestions that can help with that.”

Suggestions for managing mental health concerns during COVID-19/social distancing:

  1. Check-in with others and connect through more than just email, text, and social media. Call or video chat with your friends and family to make sure they are okay and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  2. Identify things you can do to reduce stress and anxiety. Consider what has helped you handle stress in the past, and make adjustments as needed to do those things (i.e. connecting with friends via Facetime instead of over coffee, exercise/yoga videos online instead of a group class, etc.)
  3. Maintain structure in your day. Many people are now working remotely and/or are at home with their children. Creating structure/schedule in your day can help daily life to feel more “normal.”
  4. Get outside if you can, even if it’s just in your yard, on a balcony, or just opening a window. Fresh air and sunshine can be very helpful in improving overall mood and decreasing feelings of depression and anxiety.
  5. Take breaks from social media and news articles that are focused on COVID-19. While it’s important to stay informed, too much information can be overwhelming.
  6. If you’re concerned about your mental health, take a free, anonymous mental health screening at If you screen positive for a mental health condition, you’ll receive resources and information about next steps.
  7.  Know the resources that can help you, including the following:

For more resources related to mental health and COVID-19/social distancing, visit

COVID-19: Make Mental Health a Priority Too

“40 percent of American adults say they are socially isolated.” Our Executive Director, Shannah Mulvihill, discussed with Fox 9 Buzz on March 17, 2020, the need to make mental health not just physical health, a priority during this COVID-19 emergency period. With our country on lockdown and social distancing measures in effect, those who already feel isolated are struggling. In fact, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in anxiety screenings across the country over the last few weeks.

Shannah recommends checking in with others through not just text or email, but through phone calls and video chats. Practicing self-care to reduce stress, worry and anxiety on a regular basis is important too, as is adding structure to your day. And getting outside, even in our backyards or balconies (or just opening a window!) to get some fresh air and sunshine can also help!

Connecting with our Minnesota Warmline can also benefit those experiencing increased feelings of isolation.

Mental Health Day on the Hill

Make your voice heard! Join us on March 12th to advocate for children and adults living with mental illnesses and their families at Mental Health Day on the Hill 2020 at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. Over 300 mental health advocates will gather, listen to legislative leaders, and make some noise in support of building our mental health system…And we want you to be a part of it! The day will start with an issue/education session, then we will move on to the rally and visits with legislators.

We need your voice…Find out more about this event here!

Minnesota Warmline Receives $75,000 Grant

The Otto Bremer Trust has awarded our Minnesota Warmline with a $75,000 grant! We are honored and humbled by the support, which will help our organization continue to serve Minnesotans who may be struggling with loneliness, isolation, and other mental health concerns. Our Warmline’s Certified Peer Specialists, who have first-hand experience living with a mental illness, are professionally trained to listen and help callers prevent mental health crises B4Stage4. In 2019, our Minnesota Warmline responded to more than 12,000 calls and texts from 69 counties across Minnesota.

The news of the grant follows a funding commitment from Blue Cross Blue Shield in late 2019 to support the program.

“We deeply value the support of these organizations, and also appreciate their recognition that Mental Health Minnesota has developed as a model of peer support that is making a difference in the lives of so many people,” said Shannah Mulvihill, Mental Health Minnesota’s executive director.

Thank you Otto Bremer Trust for aiding us in expanding this vital, life-saving program!

Mental Health at Work Matters


Our Executive Director, Shannah Mulvihill, visited with a number of Congressional offices in Washington, D.C. in February 2020, and also attended a Mental Health America Conference (MHA) to learn about the Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health, MHA’s new national employer certification program. We look forward to helping lead Minnesota employer involvement in this initiative! The goal is to drive workplace commitment to mental health support from the top-down, emphasizing how it can greatly impact the financial, emotional, and social success and growth of an organization.

Because all workplaces are different, an employer can aspire to receive recognition at four levels – Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Through the certification process, employers will have the opportunity to discuss the relationship between mental health and the following goals:

  • Attract potential employees and increase retention;
  • Improve employee engagement and productivity;
  • Reduce health care costs and lost revenue due to poor workplace mental health;
  • Address concerns with presenteeism and absenteeism;
  • Reduce the rate of employee turnover; and
  • Identify gaps and learn about resources to support employee mental health.

An employer will be assessed—and recognition ultimately determined by—the following five categories:

  • Workplace Culture
  • Health Insurance & Benefits
  • Employee Perks & Programs
  • Legal & Ethical Compliance
  • Leadership & Community Engagement

Learn more about MHA’s application process.

Successful “Mind Your Health” Event Held on February 15

It was exciting to connect with hundreds of people at the Mind Your Health: Healthy Mind, Healthy Body event on Saturday, February 15, 2020 at the Mall of America. Thank you to our volunteers, partners and everyone who attended! Our Outreach Coordinator, Samantha Hedden, discussed our B4Stage4 approach to mental health prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery with attendees. Two of our ambassadors, Sam and Ryan, were there to share their stories of recovery. It was definitely an inspiring day and it was a wonderful opportunity to provide hope and support to so many Minnesotans!

Peers in Action: Sam Gaspardo

This month we interviewed Sam Gaspardo, who is part of our Mental Health Ambassador Network. Sam discusses how an abusive relationship spiraled her depression and anxiety out of control. Ultimately, packing everything she owned in her car and walking away from her life as she knew it at the time, finally set her on the right path toward recovery. It was on this journey that she found Mental Health Minnesota and she now helps others realize that recovery is possible.

Can you tell us about yourself, and why you decided to join Mental Health Minnesota’s Ambassador Network?

I am 25 years old and have dealt with anxiety and depression most of my life. During my senior year of high school, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship in which I was also sexually assaulted. This led to a downward spiral that ended in a suicide attempt on New Year’s Eve. I spent the remainder of my senior year recovering, attending group and individual therapy, getting myself to a place where I was able to graduate, and preparing for college. However, I had also blocked out the assault. I spent most of my college years drinking, abusing my medications, struggling with my anxiety and depression and slowly regaining my memory of my assault. While I did go to therapy, as well as a few outpatient programs, I was still extremely vulnerable and confused by everything I was beginning to remember.

Finally, my senior year of college I hit rock bottom and decided it was time to get help. I left fall semester early and attended an intensive outpatient program at Region’s Hospital where I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I left for spring semester feeling revitalized, hoping to finally understand and get help for what I was going through. However, a month into school I hit a major setback and ended up attempting suicide once again. After leaving the hospital, I packed up all 4 years of my life into my car and moved back home for good. It was then that I finally began to get the help I needed for my PTSD.

It was a rough year of therapy, EMDR, battling a drinking problem, self-harm, health issues and coming to terms with everything I had been through. Reliving the worst days of my life however, brought me to understand what I went through was not my fault.

It was on this journey that I found Mental Health Minnesota. I had done some public speaking in college about mental health awareness and was looking for somewhere local to volunteer and do something similar. A Google search brought me to their website where I saw you could submit your recovery story.

On a whim I decided to send mine in. A few days later, I received a phone call and not only did Mental Health Minnesota want to publish my story, they wanted to feature it on their website and asked me to be an ambassador. I don’t even think I let them finish explaining what an ambassador was before I said yes! Being a part of the Mental Health Minnesota Ambassador program has been amazing. I love being able to let other people know recovery is possible and meeting other people who are mental health advocates.

Do you have a crisis plan or a self-care plan in place? If so, could you share a little bit about how you came up with your plan?

I do have a self-care plan in place. It is a combination of coping mechanisms I learned in therapy, ideas I’ve gotten from others and things that have always comforted me. I have things I do specifically for my anxiety and when I am having panic attacks, things I do when my depression is bad, and things I do when my PTSD is triggered. Each of my mental illnesses goes hand-in-hand with the other, so a lot of my coping mechanisms work for multiple situations.

I have learned that instead of trying to turn off my feelings, if I let myself feel them completely, I am able to work through them and come up with ways to help myself the next time I am feeling that way. The biggest thing that helped me with coming up with my self-care plan was accepting that it is ok to not be ok all the time. It is ok to be sad, anxious, triggered, etc. It is all a part of having a mental illness, and like any other illness you need to take care of yourself.

The best advice I ever received was from my mom – she told me “If you had a cold you wouldn’t ignore it would you? No. You would eat some soup, sleep and get better. That is how you need to treat your mental illness.” Keeping that in mind helped me come up with my self-care plan – I now take care of myself so I can feel better 🙂

What things would you suggest someone think about when they are creating their own crisis plan or self-care plan?

I would recommend having a variety of plans, especially if you have more than one mental illness. Also, having a self-care plan for different stages of when you are struggling can be helpful. For example, I have things I do when I know my symptoms are mild versus things I do when I know my symptoms are more severe.

Sometimes looking on websites such as Pinterest or mental health blogs can give you good ideas for self-care or crisis plans. If you are seeing a therapist, they are also a good resource for discussing coping mechanisms and how to create a self-care plan.

What is your advice for friends and family members who want to support a loved one who is experiencing a crisis, or starting to experience signs of a crisis?

The most important thing you can do is let them know that you are there for them and that what they are experiencing is valid. Since there is still a strong stigma around mental illness, letting someone who is experiencing or beginning to experience a crisis know that their feelings are valid is very important.

Also, ask them what you can do for them – whether it be just listening while the person vents or helping them find resources to get help. There are a lot of resources online as well for family/friends.

I will never forget when I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I came home one evening and my dad was reading on his iPad. I walked past him, thinking nothing of it, when he stopped me and asked me about some ideas he had read about online to help with my PTSD. Little things like that mean a lot as well.