Author Archives: Shannah Mulvihill

Ask the Advocate: Person Centered Planning

You ask, our advocates answer. This month our peer advocate, Suzanne, discusses person centered planning.

Meet Julia, a peer advocacy client. She called us because she felt her case manager was not listening to her. Julia’s case manager had never asked her what her goals were for housing. Without asking, her case manager picked out an assisted living facility. Julia did not want to move there. Instead, she wanted her own apartment in a diverse community of people of all ages and abilities.

Julia’s peer advocate wrote a letter to her case manager mentioning her right to person centered planning, community integration, and transition services. The advocate also identified Julia’s reasonable housing goals. The advocate served as a conduit for Julia to be “heard” by her case manager. After the case manager received the advocate’s letter, she called Julia and actively listened to her. Finally, Julia felt listened to and respected. Soon, Julia will be in her own apartment near her grandchildren—integrated into the community.

What is person centered planning?

A recent development in case management services is the requirement that services be provided using person centered care planning. Person centered planning is strength based and focuses on individual capacities, preferences and goals. This means that rather than being told what to strive for and how this should be accomplished, the person receiving services works together with their provider to identify reasonable goals and to decide how these goals can be achieved.

How do I go about identifying my goals?

When thinking about your goals it is important to consider not only what you ideally want but to also think about what is realistic. List the goals you would like to see happen in your life. For example, these goals might include: a) part time employment, b) living in your own apartment, c) having more friends, or d) reconnecting with family.

Can I get everything I ask for?

Keep in mind, you may not get everything you ask for. Your request must be reasonable, and will at times depend on ability of the community to meet your needs/request (i.e. whether the type of housing you request is available in the community you wish to live in). If your case manager thinks a goal is not reasonable, ask them to explain why and what you can do to change the situation. What is impossible today may be a possibility in the future.

How do I approach my case manager about person centered planning?

Before you meet with your case manager, think about how you want to prepare for the meeting and create a list to follow so that you don’t forget anything. To begin the conversation let them know that you have heard about person centered planning and would like to review the goals currently identified in your plan of service and possibly change some of them. Let them know that you have given a lot of thought about your life goals and what quality of life means to you. If you have talked with mental health professionals, friends, or family to gain feedback and support, which is highly recommended, pass that information on as well.

By: Suzanne Bachman, Peer Advocate

The Minnesota Warmline saw its highest call volume yet in 2017

Calls to the Minnesota Warmline reached a record high in 2017, with more than 8,000 calls during the year. The total reflects a 67% increase in the number of calls over the previous year. Since 2015, the number of calls to the Warmline has increased by more than 200%.

“Mental Health Minnesota took over the Warmline in 2015, and we have seen a significant increase in calls since that time,” said Shannah Mulvihill, executive director. “We are really pleased that so many people are able to use the peer-to-peer approach offered through our Warmline to connect and support their mental health recovery.”

A number of other changes were made to the Minnesota Warmline in 2017 to improve the service, including adding a call “queue” to enable callers to wait to talk with a Certified Peer Specialist (rather than calling back later if the lines were busy) and providing a texting option for people to use in addition to the traditional phone line.

The Minnesota Warmline also added a functionality within the phone system in 2017 that enables operators to provide a “warm hand-off” from the Warmline to county crisis lines.
“We see the Minnesota Warmline as an important part of the continuum of mental health services available to people across Minnesota,” said Mulvihill. “The ‘warm hand-off’ functionality allows our staff to ensure that a person calling the warmline can get the level of help they need, when they need it.”

The Minnesota Warmline takes calls from across the state of Minnesota, and is largely supported by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. In 2017, people called the Warmline from 74 counties across Minnesota.


The Minnesota Warmline provides a peer-to-peer approach to mental health recovery, support and wellness. Calls are answered by a team of professionally trained Certified Peer Specialists, who have first hand experience living with a mental health condition and receive ongoing training and support. The Minnesota Warmline is open Monday through Saturday, 5 PM to 10 PM, and can be reached by calling 651.288.0400 or 877.404.3190 or by texting “support” to 85511.

Ask the Advocate: Crisis Services

You ask, our advocates answer.

In our Ask the Advocate column, we will address topics that we frequently receive calls or messages about.

Our advocates often talk with people who have questions about the crisis services that are available in Minnesota. We receive calls from people who are looking for information about crisis services for themselves, as well as from friends and family members who want to support a loved one who may need to access crisis services.

This month, Suzanne, our Peer Advocate, answers your questions about crisis services.

Q: What are the different kinds of crisis services?

A: There are four different kinds of crisis services: phone crisis, texting crisis, mobile crisis and residential crisis. Phone services are the entry point into the crisis system. A phone counselor may be able to provide you with what you need (calming and resources) or they may refer you to a mobile team, residential crisis facility, nearby urgent care or hospital. Texting crisis services assist with resolving distress and providing resources and referrals. Mobile crisis are face-to-face services. Residential crisis involves short-term overnight stays of a few days until the person is stabilized. Phone, texting and mobile crisis services are provided throughout the state, whereas residential crisis services are available in a limited number of counties.

Q: How do I access crisis services?

A: The main way to access crisis services is to call your county crisis number. Use our search tool to find your county crisis number.

Q: Will mobile crisis services meet me in a public location?

A: Yes, mobile crisis services can come to your home or meet you anywhere in the community.

Q: Can I directly access residential crisis services?

A: No, only a crisis team, an emergency room doctor or a mental health professional who has assessed you can refer you to residential crisis services.

Q: Can a loved one who is concerned about me request crisis services?

A: Yes, a family member or friend can call a county crisis line and request a need for crisis services. They should call the county in which the person experiencing the crisis is located at the time of the crisis. The crisis team counselor will ask questions to determine level of need.

Q: What happens if I have no insurance?

A: Having insurance is not a requirement to receive any crisis services.

Q: Is it possible to prepare for a crisis?

A: Yes, you can create a WRAP Plan (Wellness, Recovery, Action Plan), Steps to Wellness Crisis Plan or a Psychiatric Advance Directive. If you would like further information about these planning documents please call Mental Health Minnesota and schedule an appointment to talk with a peer advocate.


By: Suzanne Bachman, Peer Advocate

Introducing… Peers in Action!

We’re excited to introduce a new feature, Peers in Action. Each month, we’ll interview someone who has used their own experience living with a mental illness to take action in their community and help others.

Last week, we spoke with Jenna Erickson, an avid mental health advocate and speaker who works as a Certified Peer Support Specialist.

Jenna, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start publicly sharing your recovery story?

I live with Borderline Personality Disorder. For years, my life was a constant emotional roller coaster filled with self-loathing and self-destructive coping mechanisms. I spent much of my young adulthood in and out of mental health facilities, treatment centers, and hospitals, eventually ending up in the criminal justice system. This was an awakening for me. With the help of some amazing and supportive family, friends, and providers, I was finally able to accept my illness and begin working on recovery.

I began sharing my story publicly in 2014. My current therapist teaches a class on serious and persistent mental illness at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, and she asked if I would be willing to share my story with her students. Everyone was so kind and welcoming, and I realized that by sharing my story, I could help others. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with hundreds of students, police officers, professionals, and consumers throughout the metro. There’s a lot of loss that comes with mental illness, and speaking has allowed me to turn my painful past and subsequent recovery into a powerful learning experience for myself and others.

Last year, you shared your story with patients at Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. Your story was particularly meaningful and hopeful because you were able to talk about your own experience as a patient at AMRTC. Can you talk a little bit about how you felt as a patient at AMRTC, and consequently, how you felt as a speaker there?

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to speak at AMRTC. As a patient, I remember feeling as though I was a prisoner, not only to the confines of the hospital but to my own mental illness. As someone who has been in both the state hospital and jail, the experiences were not as different as one would hope. Days dragged on with seemingly little regard for my sense of humanity or future health. I did have a few exceptional providers who not only listened to me, but spoke to me like I was a person, not a patient. I fondly remember one staff member who played card games with us, and occasionally brought us treats like puzzle books and sips of coffee from the “outside” world. She treated me like I was a human being at a time when I felt worthless and defeated.

Returning to AMRTC for my speech last year was such a transformative experience. If you had told me when I was a patient that one day I would return to share my story of recovery, I would’ve laughed you out of the room! So, it was a bit like being in the Twilight Zone. The sights and smells of the building definitely brought back memories, and I did feel a sense of kinship with the people who attended the presentation. The strangest part was the realization that I could both arrive and leave without restriction!

What was your message when speaking at AMRTC and what did you want people to know?

This was definitely the most passionate speech I’ve given. I truly wanted the attendees to know that recovery is possible and to give them hope. I remember how hopeless I felt while at AMRTC, and I wanted them to know that this experience didn’t have to define them or hold them back. They, too, could recover and achieve their dreams.

Hope is an essential aspect of the mental health recovery process. It is incredibly hopeful for people who are struggling with their mental health to hear personal stories from others who have been in their shoes, and who are now in recovery. What are your future plans and goals as a public speaker and otherwise?

I plan to continue sharing my story with people around the metro and hopefully beyond. I am a recent addition to NAMI’s Speakers’ Bureau and I’ve had the opportunity to give academic presentations about mental illness too. Someday, I’d love to write a memoir. Thankfully I have years of journals to reference when I’m ready to tackle that!

I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work, and after that I’d like to obtain a master’s degree. Someday, I’d like to work as a mental health practitioner so I can help others who are living with mental health challenges. I don’t like to think too far ahead though, as we never know what twists and turns life has in store for us. Recovery is definitely a process, and I know there are both blessings and hardships still ahead. My biggest goal is to stay true to myself, enjoy the present, and let my life continue to unfold before me.

What piece(s) of advice do you have for someone who is interested in publicly sharing their story of mental health recovery for the first time?

Most importantly, remember you have a voice and your story is important. It takes courage to share the most vulnerable parts of yourself with others, and it is a deeply liberating and exhilarating experience. I can’t tell you the number of times I felt like I wasn’t getting through to an audience, and then someone would come up to me afterward and tell me how my story gave them hope for their sister, son or mother. Your story will touch more lives than you can count. You, yes YOU, can make an impact.

Interested in sharing YOUR story? Here’s how you can get started:

Join Mental Health Minnesota’s Ambassador Network. Ambassadors have the opportunity to share their stories through writing for our blog and/or public speaking. Public speaking opportunities include speaking to students, educators, people living with a mental health condition, friends and family members of someone living with a mental health condition, policy makers, employers, employees, and the general public.

Consider becoming a contributor to The Mighty. The Mighty is a community-oriented online magazine with a site specifically for personal mental health stories.

Have someone in mind that you would like to nominate to be featured as a Peer in Action? Send us an email! 

Mental Health Minnesota presents ‘Beyond the Books: Engaging Clients in Recovery’

Mental Health Minnesota’s Beyond the Books workshop series explores topics that are essential to recovery oriented mental health care. The workshops are a continuing education opportunity for mental health care providers and are designed to offer a real world perspective that expands learning beyond the typical classroom experience. Each workshop focuses on a different aspect of mental health recovery from the perspective of people who have experienced living with a mental health condition.

We recently held our second workshop, “Engaging Clients in Recovery.” The workshop was facilitated by Mental Health Minnesota’s executive director, Shannah Mulvihill, and featured a panel of Certified Peer Support Specialists who have experienced living with a mental illness.

Each panelist shared their unique story of recovery, from when they first started to experience symptoms of a mental illness, to when they first received treatment for their illness, and to where they are in their recovery journey today.

While each of the panelists experienced living with a different mental health diagnosis, and have had very different paths to recovery, similar themes emerged from their stories.

All of the panelists emphasized the fact that having a mental health care provider who believed in them, and believed that they would recover from their illness, was an important piece of their recovery.

When asked what words of advice they would give to mental health providers who are trying to convey a sense of hope to their clients, the panelists answered:

  • Believe that your clients will recover, and that recovery is possible. Let them know that you believe that they will recover.
  • Provide your clients with the information they need to understand their diagnosis, treatment options, and supports and services that are available to them.
  • Having a safe place to live is an extremely important basic need. Without a safe place to live, it is very difficult for people to move forward with other aspects of their mental health recovery.
  • Remember that at the end of the day, your client is responsible for their own recovery. They should be involved in creating their plan for mental health recovery. Ask them what their goals are for the future.
  • It’s okay if your clients want to challenge themselves to go above and beyond their initial recovery goals. Provide support to help them succeed.

Our next Beyond the Books workshop, “Effects of Social Isolation on Physical Health,” will be held on Thursday, October 26 from 8am – 9:30am at the Wilder Center in St. Paul. During this workshop, we will discuss the effects of social isolation and loneliness on physical health and talk about strategies that can be used to establish social supports. We will be offering the options to either attend the workshop in person or via live video.

Click here to register for the next workshop! 

July Minnesota Warmline Calls Increase By 70%+ Over Previous Year

Calls to the Minnesota Warmline reached a record high in July, with more than 750 calls during the month. The total reflects an increase of more than 70% in the number of calls over the previous July.

“Mental Health Minnesota took over the Warmline in 2015, and we have seen a significant increase in calls since that time,” said Shannah Mulvihill, executive director. “We are really pleased that so many people are able to use the peer-to-peer approach offered through our Warmline to support their mental health recovery.”

The Minnesota Warmline provides a peer-to-peer approach to mental health recovery, support and wellness. Calls are answered by our team of professionally trained Certified Peer Specialists, who have first hand experience living with a mental health condition. The Warmline is open Monday through Saturday, 5 PM to 10 PM.

The Warmline also recently added a texting option, which can be accessed by texting “support” to 85511.


Mental Health Minnesota Staff Attend National Conference

Mental Health Minnesota had the opportunity to attend the national Mental Health America conference in June 2017. The conference, held in Washington, DC, provided attendees with an opportunity to learn from other affiliate organizations around the country, as well as build connections and relationships that will help propel the organization forward.

Staff attending the conference also had the chance to meet with Senator Franken, who spoke at the conference.

Mental Health Minnesota joins forces with national group

By Andy Steiner

(March 24, 2017)

In the interest of greater access and visibility, Mental Health Minnesota, the state’s oldest mental health advocacy organization, has joined forces with Mental Health America, a national community-based nonprofit dedicated to serving the needs of people with mental illness.

Shannah Mulvihill, Mental Health Minnesota’s executive director, said the move was her idea.

“About six months ago I started to think about what we needed to do to build capacity and grow statewide as an organization, to build visibility and to be out there more,” she said. “Part of what I was thinking about was, ‘How do we have a voice in the bigger picture?’”

One way to increase her organization’s clout, Mulvihill thought, was to build connections with larger national mental health organizations.

“I started to think about what national affiliation could look like,” she said.

National affiliation, or official association with a nationally based nonprofit, could help Mental Health Minnesota extend its clout in the halls of power and provide greater service to its members, Mulvihill explained. The obvious choice for this partnership was Mental Health America, a powerful 110-year-old organization with offices in Arlington Va., a large staff and an established track record of Capitol Hill lobbying and successful advocacy programs.

A good match


Several years ago, Mental Health Minnesota had been affiliated with the national organization, but had disaffiliated during a re-organization. Mulvihill decided to investigate what a renewed partnership with the national group could look like.

“I reached out to Mental Health America,” she said. “I learned a little bit and I liked what I saw. The organization aligns closely with our organization’s core beliefs. I was looking for a way to be part of something bigger, to be part of the national conversation. Mental Health America has a big presence in D.C., and that was definitely something we were looking for.”

Mulvihill eventually raised the affiliation idea with Mental Health Minnesota board members, who supported the move, so earlier this year, they decided to take the next step.

The affiliation process will be mostly “seamless,” Mulvihill said.

“We’ll start adding a few things like a small logo change that we will start to include on our materials and our website. Then we’ll put things out on social media and in conversations with donors. Our services won’t change, but our reach will.”

Paul Gionfriddo, Mental Health America president and CEO, said his organization was pleased to welcome Mental Health Minnesota back as an affiliate. His nonprofit now has affiliates in more than 40 states.

“It’s wonderful to have Mental Health Minnesota back,” he said. Though the similarity between the organizations’ names was completely coincidental (The Minnesota organization dropped its original name, Mental Health Association of Minnesota, a little over two years ago during a rebranding effort, Mulvihill explained, and chose the new moniker for its clarity), Gionfriddo likes that the organizations names will also be aligned.

“They will be the third Mental Health America affiliate that carries the state name, along with Colorado and Connecticut,” he said. “There is a little trend among some of the progressive-thinking states around mental health issues to take on the state name. I’m excited about that.”

Something for everyone

Mulvihill sees the affiliation as a cost-effective way to expand the reach of her small organization, which employs just five staff members.

“Mental Health America has a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in D.C.,” she said. “We don’t have the staff capacity to keep track of everything here. They can keep track of what’s happening and feed us information about what we can do, who we can reach out to. This affiliation is a way to build our capacity without having to expand our staff.”

For Mental Health America, more affiliates mean more clout with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Gionfriddo also said that Mental Health Minnesota’s established peer-advocacy program helps support and guide the establishment of his organization’s newly national peer specialist certification program.

“To have a partner like Mental Health Minnesota that is so familiar with peer-to-peer work will be a special benefit to us with this new program,” he said. “It is a great partnership.”

The Mental Health America national peer certification program will certify peer counselors, or trained individuals with a history of mental illness, to work in partnership with other health professionals guiding patients with mental illness through the treatment process. Peer certification programs exist nationwide, but Gionfriddo explained that the certification provided by Mental Health America will be nationally transferrable, so that individuals’ credentials will carry over if they move to a new part of the country.

Early detection advocates

Another Mental Health America program that Mulvihill is excited about is B4Stage4, a national program that works to treatment of mental illness at the earliest stages, before it reaches a crisis.

“It’s likening the treatment of mental illness to if you go to the doctor and you have cancer, they don’t say, ‘Come back when its Stage 4,’ but that is often how we treat mental illness,” Mulvihill said. “We don’t treat it until things get really bad. Instead we have to be ready at stage zero. We have to have the services and the opportunities in place for treatment at early stages as well.” The national program helps to get the message out to a larger audience, she said. “This is an important issue, one that we want more people to be aware of.”

Gionfriddo said that affiliation will also provide Mental Health Minnesota with access to information culled from the extensive mental health screening tools that his organization has developed and administered for many years.

“With this information, we’re able to look well upstream and begin to identify some of the symptoms that people have way before they’re diagnosed with a mental illness,” he said. “For people concerned about their mental health at the earliest stages, we have the tools that can help them get more targeted services.”

This is exciting news for Mental Health Minnesota, Mulvihill said; her organization, which was founded in 1939 as a voice for Minnesotans being treated in the state’s network of psychiatric hospitals, has continued to stay true to its core mission of “wanting to make sure that treatment was available for people with mental illness,” so tools that will help with early detection and treatment are a good match.

It’s a philosophical coordination further solidifies her belief that the alignment was a good move for her organization.

“This move is good for everyone,” Mulvihll said. “It’s forward thinking, something that expands our work in a positive way.”


This article was written by Andy Steiner and published in MinnPost on March 24, 2017.

In Mental Health, Talk of Hope and Recovery is Key to Improving Lives

Kate* first began struggling with symptoms of bipolar disorder when she was 19 years old. A college freshman away from home for the first time, she struggled to make sense of what was happening, and turned to alcohol and drugs as a way of coping with symptoms she didn’t understand…symptoms of a mental illness that hadn’t yet been diagnosed. She stopped attending her classes and left college later that semester, ashamed but still unable to understand what had happened.

After returning home, Kate’s parents tried to help. Their first stop was the family’s longtime primary care doctor, who prescribed an antidepressant and suggested she see a therapist. She did, but her symptoms continued to get worse instead of better. Kate was unable to maintain employment or continue her education, and she felt hopeless.

“It was hard to see what there was to live for,” says Kate. “It was like I was living someone else’s life that I had no control over, and no future to look forward to.”

Over time, Kate received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and worked with a psychiatrist to find the right medication to help her manage her symptoms. She also started working with a new therapist who used a word Kate hadn’t heard before: recovery.

“No one had told me that I could ‘recover’ from my mental illness before that day,” said Kate. “It gave me hope for the future.”

Kate eventually finished college and now has a successful career. She has also become an advocate for mental health recovery and access to treatment and services people need to get better.

“It took me a long time to get better, and it’s my hope that my story helps others get help sooner. I also want health care professionals to know how important it is to provide hope for recovery to those facing mental illness…for me, that was life changing.”

The concept of “recovery” is still a fairly new one in the world of mental health treatment and services. Until the 1950s, many people facing mental illness lived in state institutions. Limited options for treatment existed, and there was little hope for those facing mental illness and their families that things could ever get better.

Today, we look at mental health very differently. The belief that recovery from mental illness is possible is prevalent. There are many more options for treatment and services for those living with mental illnesses. Although we still have a long way to go to ensure that people have access to the help they need to recover, we have come a long way.

Still, mental health recovery does not always mean “complete” recovery from a mental illness, at least not in the same way that recovery is often thought of when it comes to physical health concerns. For many people living with mental illness, recovery is about managing a chronic condition (and its symptoms) and building the resiliency, tools and support system they need to live a meaningful life.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”

At Mental Health Minnesota, we refer to a mental health “recovery journey,” because we know that ups and downs often occur, and no two paths to recovery are the same. We believe that engagement is where recovery begins, because it ensures that those living with mental illness know the options for care and treatment that are available and make choices that reflect their goals and individual journey to mental health recovery. The first step, however, is often having the resources and help needed to move forward.

Alex* called Mental Health Minnesota from a hospital after learning he would be discharged the next day. Prior to going to the emergency room and his ensuing hospitalization, Alex saw a primary care physician a few times per year but did not have a support system set up to address his mental health concerns, although he was taking several medications prescribed by his doctor to help address his symptoms.

Alex wanted to seek help, and felt that, following his mental health crisis and hospitalization, he needed an intensive treatment program to learn to manage his mental illness. However, he was also concerned that doing so would also mean loss of his full-time job, as well as his health insurance.

Mental Health Minnesota’s peer advocate helped Alex identify a partial hospitalization program and other resources, that would help him move toward mental health recovery, as well as make an appointment to see a psychiatrist. She also helped him contact human resources at his company to arrange for the leave he needed for treatment that would ensure that his employment and insurance were secure.

“I needed to keep my job, but I also knew that I needed help to get better,” said Alex. “Landing in the hospital meant I couldn’t continue to just ‘get by’…I needed more.”

For many people, the gateway to mental health care has become primary care, or in the event of a crisis, a hospital emergency room. So how can we all do more to make sure that people get the help they need, when they need it?

First, we should all recognize and appreciate the fact that mental health and physical health are, without a doubt, woven together. And for those facing serious mental illness, it’s not just a fact, it borders on a public health crisis.

People in Minnesota who are living with a serious mental illness die, on average, 24 years earlier than their peers. 24 years earlier. And while suicide is more common among those living with serious mental illness than the general population, the leading causes of death are heart disease, unintentional injury, COPD and cancer.

According to SAMHSA, this gap in life span has actually increased, not decreased, over the last thirty years. So, even as treatment and services for mental health have continue to improve, there is a need to further integrate the way we approach health care…physical health and mental health cannot be stand alone entities if we are to address this troubling trend.

Mental Health Minnesota initiated a survey recently to learn more about the barriers people living with a serious mental illness face in managing their health. We are hoping that our work will help health care providers think differently about their work and improve outcomes for their patients. A number of people completing the survey said that they felt their primary care doctor didn’t understand or address the individual barriers they were facing in pursuit of physical health, especially the impact of psychotropic medications, which can cause weight gain, lethargy and a number of other side effects.

So what can healthcare providers do? Ask your patients about their goals. Understand their challenges. Know when and where to refer a patient for more help. Look at the whole person. And know that one in five people will face a mental health concern at some point during their lifetime, and at one point or another, will walk through your office door.

Founded in 1939, Mental Health Minnesota was the state’s first mental health advocacy and education organization. Services include the Minnesota Warmline, an anonymous phone line for those working on their mental health recovery, as well as Peer Advocacy, which helps people overcome hurdles and gain access to the treatment and services needed in their mental health recovery. Both services utilize a peer-to-peer approach, providing support to people through a lived experience perspective. Mental Health Minnesota’s free services are available to people across Minnesota, and health care providers are encouraged to refer patients who need help. For more information about services, resources and education, visit

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.


This article was written by Shannah Mulvihill, Executive Director, and published in MetroDoctors Magazine in January 2017.

One Person’s Story Shows Importance of Early Treatment

When Sam first went to college, she had already been through a lot. She struggled with depression and anxiety throughout high school and had survived an abusive relationship. By the time her first semester of college started, she wanted to put it all behind her and start anew. What Sam did not know at the time, though, was that she was not only working against anxiety and depression, but also Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that had not yet been diagnosed.

Without understanding what she was up against, Sam struggled over the next few years. She had blacked out memories that were resurfacing and was often afraid to go out with her friends. She numbed the pain by drinking and became addicted to painkillers. It was not until her senior year of college that Sam sought out help. She found a therapist whom she says helped change her life. “My therapist educated me on PTSD, helped me through the trauma through EMDR Therapy, helped me realized I wasn’t a failure and, most importantly, taught me to love myself.”

Sam spent five difficult years battling an illness she did not know she had. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. On average, the length of time between the onset of symptoms of mental illness and receiving treatment is ten years.

So how can we get young people the right help sooner? Mental Health Minnesota, a statewide organization that provides mental health advocacy, education and direct service, believes that an awareness and understanding of symptoms is an important first step.

Mental Health Minnesota’s website hosts an anonymous online screening tool that aims to help people assess their mental health. There has been a tremendous increase in the online screening program, with more than 100,000 people taking the screening in the last year. That number is up from just around 7,000 in 2013. More than two-thirds of those screenings are being done by those between the ages of 18 and 24.

If young people are able to better understand what they may be dealing with sooner, they can seek out treatment earlier, and as a result, have a better quality of life. Sam strongly believes that had a screening been available to her earlier on, it would have been incredibly helpful to leading her to the correct diagnosis sooner.

Today, Sam is doing well: she is working on her recovery and has a passion for increasing awareness around mental illnesses. However, Sam’s story highlights the impact of the gap between onset of symptoms and treatment. When asked where she thinks she would be today if she hadn’t received the help she needed in five years instead of the average ten, she simply stated, “I don’t know if I would still be here.” However, she also wants to convey hope to others. “I have come to believe in the phrase ‘it gets better,’” said Sam. “I used to hate it when people said that to me, but now I realize why people say that. So, as much of a cliché as it is, things really do get better.”

Thursday, October 6, 2016, is National Depression Screening Day. If you are concerned about your mental health, you can take the anonymous screening at The screening includes assessments for symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, adolescent depression, alcohol use disorder, substance use and eating disorders. At the end of the screening, you will see your results and access resources for help.

“We want people to know that recovery is possible, and that help is out there,” said Shannah Mulvihill, Mental Health Minnesota’s executive director. “A screening like ours is a first step—We want more success stories like Sam’s.”