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 Blog Post

Huntingdon's Mental Health Awareness Day 2021

Tags: Huntingdon
June 28, 2021 12:00 AM
By: DOC Staff

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By L. Maust, Corrections Counselor 2, SCI Huntingdon

The past year has already gone down in history as one of the most arduous years ever. Alongside everyone else, the PA DOC has adapted and fought through the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been difficult for staff and inmates alike, as well as for friends and family. Stress and anxiety surrounding the pandemic. Encouraging others to be responsible for helping to keep us healthy became a household phrase: "Your mask protects me. My mask protects you." With constant changes and increasing restrictions came a seemingly endless stream of stressors and situations causing fear, anxiety and depression to rise to astounding levels inside the walls.

SCI Huntingdon paused and took a day at the end of May 2021 to acknowledge and recognize Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental Health Awareness Month began in the United States in 1949. It was started by the Mental Health America Organization. Its purpose was, and continues to be, to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness and to celebrate recovery from mental illness. This pandemic has wreaked havoc throughout the world and caused us to limit group activities everywhere. Despite these limitations, SCI Huntingdon found a way to celebrate. Prior to the pandemic, the institution hosted fundraisers and held 5k Run-a-Thons/Walk-a-Thons. Last year, those events were canceled.  It was depressing. So, this year, we celebrated.

Several staff members from across multiple departments worked diligently to organize the re-imagined event. There would be no large gatherings. Messaging would be delivered virtually and on paper. But, it would be delivered. On May 26, SCI Huntingdon held its Mental Health Awareness Day event. Staff and inmates heard the message: "You are not alone." We stood in solidarity with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on the theme for this year. The focus was on the healing value of connecting in safe ways; for example, communicating and being there for each other despite social distancing.. We took the day to recognize that taking care of our mental health is a priority and acknowledged that it is okay if we are not okay. We can get through this together. We are not alone.

Several speakers (pictured above) presented through a broadcast on the live chapel feed to the entire facility. Deacon McFee opened and spoke on the role that the chaplaincy plays in mental health and wellness and the services they provide. Corrections Classification Program Manager Strait followed Deacon McFee and expounded on the importance of staying connected with one another and on the value of staying active and participating in the community. Psychological Services Specialists Neri and McMahon spoke on mental health and the opportunities for mental health care are offered at SCI Huntingdon. Finally, Lori Kane, the regional director of psychiatric rehabilitation and peer services for skills of Central PA, delivered the keynote address via a pre-recorded message. She discussed the way a person's mindset can influence one's social and psychological wellbeing. Facility staff also created a pamphlet that included written submissions from inmates, messages from support staff and activity puzzles. The pamphlet was distributed throughout the institution. Finally, the Jaycees, an inmate organization, together with Activities Department staff, organized a fundraiser and plan to donate the proceeds to the Warren E. Smith Center in Philadelphia.

Everyone in Corrections, both employees and incarcerated persons, had a difficult year. It is important for us all to take a moment to remember what we have been through. Remember that we all have a job to do, but never forget that we need to take care of ourselves and each other. We do that by managing our stressors and fears—our anxieties. Realize that everyone we work with every day has gone through similar trials. 

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