“Because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
—Steve Orusa, fire chief for the city of Fishers Department of Fire & Emergency Services
May is mental health month, and an important conversation in Central Indiana. In this month’s episode of For Good, CICF vice president of community leadership and effective philanthropy, Tamara Winfrey-Harris, talks to individuals from all over the community about their mental health advocacy and personal experiences around mental health. On this episode, hear from: Steve Orusa, fire chief for the city of Fishers Department of Fire and Emergency Services; Chris Paulsen, CEO at Indiana Youth Group; Suzanne Clifford, senior advisor for Give An Hour Indianapolis and Westfield Wellbeing Coalition consultant; and Bre Suggs, program manager for Give an Hour Indiana.
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Transcription of episode available below.
WHO YOU’RE LISTENING TO
- Tamara Winfrey-Harris – vice president of community leadership & effective philanthropy at CICF
- Suzanne Clifford – senior advisor for Give An Hour, CEO of Inspiring Transformations
- Steve Orusa – fire chief for the city of Fishers Department of Fire & Emergency Services
- Chris Paulsen – CEO at Indiana Youth Group
- Bre Suggs – program manager for Give An Hour Indiana
Welcome to For Good, Central Indiana Community Foundation’s podcast highlighting stories about passion, purpose, and progress in central Indiana. At CICF, we believe in opportunity and equity. We believe that our communities and neighborhoods are stronger because of our diversity. And we believe that with innovation and boldness, central Indiana can be a place where everyone can reach their full potential, no matter their place, race, or identity.
This is our community. And these are your stories.
TAMARA WINFREY-HARRIS: Hello and welcome to For Good. I’m Tamara Winfrey-Harris, the vice president for community leadership and effective philanthropy at Central Indiana Community Foundation. Today we’re recording from Tea’s Me Café, it’s a tea shop that’s been a staple in the Herron Morton and Fall Creek Place neighborhoods for 13 years and is now owned by former WNBA star Tamika Catchings. Yay, everybody loves Tamika.
And in honor of mental health month, I’m joined today by four individuals who are passionate mental health advocates for our conversation today. And first I’d like to have everyone introduce themselves. Suzanne, why don’t we start with you.
SUZANNE CLIFFORD: Hi, I’m Suzanne Clifford and I’m senior advisor for Give An Hour and also CEO of Inspiring Transformations, working with communities like Westfield and Fishers.
STEVE ORUSA: I’m Steve Orusa. I’m fire chief for the city of Fishers Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
CHRIS PAULSEN: I’m Chris Paulsen. I am CEO at Indiana Youth Group.
BRE SUGGS: Hi, my name is Bre Suggs and I’m the program manager for Give An Hour Indiana.
TAMARA: So Suzanne, both you and Brie mentioned Give An Hour, can you tell us a little bit about what that is?
SUZANNE: Absolutely. Give An Hour is an international organization that was founded first to provide free mental health care to veterans and military families. But because of the wonderful work of the Women’s Fund and the Marion County Health Department, we’re the first place in the country where we’re piloting this and expanding it for underserved girls and women in the community. So we’re very excited about that. And I’ll let Bre tell you a little bit about our wonderful program.
BRE: So Give An Hour Indiana will be working with, or we have been working with, two IPS schools, school 96 and school 83, Meredith Nichols and Floro Torrence and we have a 10 week program that centered around the five signs of emotional suffering and the five healthy habits. And we intertwine that with a social-emotional learning curriculum and which the girls are supportive with activities, where they can do art and different things, where we engage in conversation that highlights the topics of emotions, healthy relationships, body image, general health.
TAMARA: So you know, Bre and Suzanne, you both work for specifically a mental health organization, but Chris and Steve, you both have very different perspectives and experiences with mental health and wellness. And I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about the role mental health and wellness has played in your work. Chris, start with you.
CHRIS: Certainly Indiana Youth Group provides a safer space for LGBTQ youth ages 12 to 20 to come and hang out, be their authentic selves, maybe escape from some of the traumas that they face in everyday life at home, in school, in places of worship. So we just tried to give them a safer space that they can be themselves and grow into who they really are.
TAMARA: And Steve, what about you? I mean, fire chief is maybe not people’s first thought when they think about mental health advocates, but why is understanding mental health so important to your work?
STEVE: Fire and Emergency Services focuses on the 911 call and things can sneak up on you in the community. One of them is mental health. We found that we were having several hundred mental health runs in a year, and then in another additional several hundred immediate detentions at Community North. So you begin to see that there’s more mental health issues in our community than there are fires. So now how do we as a public safety organization trade a paradigm shift and go from fires and 911 and EMS calls to addressing the mental health crisis in our community? And it takes some cultural courage, cause my guys didn’t sign up to do mental health runs. It’s not sexy. They signed up to ride a red fire truck and rescue people. But I’m pretty proud of them and we’ve embraced it and we’re making a difference.
TAMARA: That’s a powerful statement that there are more mental health calls then fires. That’s really powerful. So let’s talk about some of that data. Suzanne, can you give us some context about where we are nationally? National statistics around mental health, but most especially locally and regionally.
SUZANNE: Absolutely. Unfortunately, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people across the country for ages 10 to 34. So there is no disease that kills people ages 10 to 34 more than suicide. In fact, in Indiana suicide is the third leading cause of death to kids 10 to 14 and the second leading cause of death to Hoosiers 15 to 34. So a lot of critical needs out there and it’s really important that we intervene early because of half of all serious mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% begins by age 24, so we have to break the stigma and help people get treatment earlier. The treatment success rate is so much better the earlier we intervene. And that’s why I’m passionate about all these wonderful more preventative, proactive programs that we’re talking about today.
TAMARA: I wonder how those statistics change when we’re talking about people of color.
BRE: African Americans and minority populations access services half the amount of their Caucasian counterparts as well as are twice as likely to be misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed.
TAMARA: Chris, how does that context change? When we talk about the LGBTQ community?
CHRIS: LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth and an LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. So it’s definitely something that we keep a very close eye on, how our youth are feeling and what we can do to help them through those feelings.
TAMARA: And what are the barriers to treatment? I know when we talk about people of color, not only is there stigma, but there are fewer professionals, culturally competent professionals, people that would understand their experiences. I would imagine we’d find the same with the LGBTQ community.
CHRIS: There are, there luckily are more and more therapists that know how to competently deal with LGBTQ youth and adults, but it is a limited pool of therapists. So it is difficult getting into a therapist in a timely manner.
SUZANNE: Yeah, and I think Chris and Bre are both doing some cultural competency training with people like licensed therapists and psychiatrists and others so that we can expand that. We really want very diverse people from all over to think about the mental health profession. We have a massive shortage and we need different perspectives in order to meet people where they are and connect with them and understand them.
BRE: To piggy back off of what you were saying, something that I feel like it’s very valuable that we’re seeing increasing in Indiana is the use of peer supports. So whether it be, you know, peer supports for mental health, for addiction, or even specifically for youth, we’re seeing individuals with lived experience who have navigated the systems, who’ve had to navigate and create their wellness plan and create a regimen for how they maintain their challenges and they’re able to give back and help other people navigate the same way. So I’m grateful that a lot of clinicians and community mental health centers are now using peers to walk alongside individuals and that increases the outcomes. And if they’re not able to necessarily get in contact with their clinician, then they can have access to a peer who can help them in addition. So I’m grateful for that.
TAMARA: That’s so important. So important to have someone else who understands a little bit about what you’re going through. And also important that first responders are knowledgeable. And I wonder, Steve, what are some of the signs that first responders look for when they’re determining, you know, is this a mental health call? Is this, do we need to take this another step and get this person mental health?
STEVE: Yeah. What’s great is we’ve created, the program that we have in our EMS division, Emergency Medical Services Division, asked the question, how do we prepare the 24 year old firefighter paramedic to go on a mental health? Um, there was no template out there. So we kind of created our own with the help of Suzanne and it includes a CIT training, 40 hour CIT training. Everybody’s going through the CIT Youth training, social-emotional learning training, all these types of training. And now we have a menu and a checklist, but we’re still not done because it’s so new. And then there’s a point now, “okay we need to audit and review these runs with a clinician to identify gaps in service and prepare people even more effectively to serve those individuals.”
And on top of that, we need to have our people do clinical hours like they do for paramedicine in labor and delivery or on the cardiac floor. They need to do that in a mental health facility. So we’re building that out right now and including mandatory continuing education skills maintenance for those individuals.
What’s really interesting, last quarter of last year we actually left the 911 call and said, “how do we prevent some of this? How do we serve these individuals? Because if they become super users were not really making up any ground.” So when we implemented an EMS Duty Officer position, which is a 24 hour, seven day a week service where this EMS Duty Officer is mental health trained, is also a paramedic, goes on every mental health run. It’s important because the police officers need someone to rule out a medical issue and whether it’s mental health or not. That EMS Duty Officer can do that. But what’s the most important part is that EMS Duty Officer follows up within 72 hours with that patient, builds a trusting relationship, becomes a patient navigator and now can make a difference in that patient’s life. Because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And just seeing them on a 911 call and dropping them off at the ER is not meeting them at their point of need.
TAMARA: So we hope that people get assistance before it becomes an emergency. So I’m wondering what are the steps, what are the signs that you recommend people look for to determine whether their friends or family, people they care about, need mental assistance.
BRE: I think it’s awesome that the Campaign to Change Direction is so simple. The five signs and five healthy habits:
- Number one, a change in personality, not feeling like yourself. If you notice a change in someone or they’re just, even if you can’t identify it specifically, if you know that something’s off that’s a sign.
- Number two, if someone having is having mood swings or mood changes, feeling agitated, overly aggressive or overly angry.
- If someone is isolating themselves or withdrawing from others or just kind of being off, not wanting to be around others, that’s a sign.
- If you see a decline in personal care, someone’s not bathing, someone’s not taking care of themselves as they usually would, showering.
- And fifth, an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. If someone is feeling sad or feeling like things aren’t ever going to get better, then that’s the fifth sign.
TAMARA: Chris, I wonder if there is one anecdote or experience you’ve had that really illustrates how important mental health care is for the community you serve?
CHRIS: Definitely. We come across a lot of youth who have been rejected by their families and that’s obviously a huge trigger to mental health issues. We had one youth who was thrown out of his home and he went back to get his ID because his parents didn’t let him have his ID. They had him arrested for trespassing. He was 18 and three days at the point. So now he has a felony and he was in a small town, Indiana, so he came to Indianapolis thinking there’s going to be services here. And he got here and discovered there aren’t that many services unless you actually know where to go. And yeah, he came to us pretty hopeless that he wasn’t going to ever become anything because he couldn’t get housed, he couldn’t get a job, he couldn’t get into education, and he just felt that there was no path forward at all. And just working with those youth to find I’m just a small break.
We helped get him an ID. That was a huge thing because now he can enroll in school, things like that. Just walking with the youth through all those barriers that they face really can help. But those triggers, the family, and society in general, can really trigger mental health issues in youth just at the snap of a finger.
SUZANNE: I think you bring up such an important point, you know, today there is so much hate and negative bombardment of the brain right now with the 24/7 news cycle, with social media, people sometimes electronically saying some things that they wouldn’t say face to face. And then people not accepting people for who they are. People don’t realize the impact that you make on that person’s life. And so it’s very important that we really think about how we’re treating each other and how we’re caring about each other and what we can do to be a good person. Who are you in this world and how are you impacting the people around you?
CHRIS: Suzanne, to your point, each episode of LGBT victimization raises the chance of self harm by 2.5% in youth. So every time they hear something negative, it’s 2.5 times more likely that they are going to self harm. Which, if you hear 10 things in a day, that’s huge and they’re hearing it from every direction. So yes, being kind to each other is very, very important.
TAMARA: And thinking of, to your point, how many negative things, so many people, so many youth are hearing today. LGBTQ youth, Muslim youth, African American youth, you know, traumatic videos of police shootings. You’re bombarded with that through social media and television. And that’s constant trauma. I wonder, because we all know what good personal healthcare looks like even if we don’t do it, you know. Eat an apple a day, you eat your lettuce, you get up and move for 30 minutes a day. You know, we kind of have a blueprint, even though a lot of us don’t do it, on what it looks like to treat your body well. But I wonder are there some things, Suzanne, that we should be doing to treat our minds well? I mean, because it occurs to me we ought to be thinking about mental health care in the same way we think about physical health care. So what do we do to keep ourselves mentally healthy if we can?
SUZANNE: Yeah, so there are five healthy habits and I think those are very important. They’re very simple. And I know you have those on the Women’s Fund website as well. One of them is take care of yourself. You know, most Americans do not get enough sleep. Most people around the world, they’re not getting enough sleep. So get good sleep, get exercise, eat right, and think about the types of foods that you’re putting into your body. That’s number one, take care. Also check in with others and make sure that you are checking in with your friends. If you need a professional, check in with a professional. That’s what they’re there for.
Also, engaging friends and family, having relationships. Social isolation is one of the biggest problems today. It’s also a problem in older adults. So that’s another place where we need to do some specific outreach. Also, just learning how to relax and take care of yourself and that may look different for different people. Some people might like to dance or sing. Some people might like to garden, some people might like to go for a walk.
TAMARA: So Bre, so what if we did all those? What if we did all those things? What if we did that? What if we started being kind to one another and treating each other equally? What if our first responders were all trained and educated, what would it look like? What would be different?
BRE: What I see every day, even with the girls, they want to be an environment where they feel accepted. Where they feel loved, where they know someone cares, and that they’re important to someone. And to see them thrive and to see and to engage with them and see how well they do when they are in that environment and how they model that too. The kinder we are to them, the kinder they are to each other. So it’s super helpful to see how sweet they are, how excited they are to see us, and how much they give back the love and care to each other when we do that. So I look forward to that community and I hope to bring that in. That I think we will have a lot of decrease in suicides and I think we’ll have a lot of decrease in self harm and a lot of conflict in general. And even I think about violence as well. Like there could be a decrease in that and when we treat people well.
SUZANNE: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more Bre. I think creating that environment where the kids feel that there are caring adults that really want to help them and teach them and make sure that they’re successful, and then we ask them “what are your dreams and how can we help you in your journey to achieve your dreams?” It’s really important. You know, CICF is also sponsoring, through the Hamilton County Community Foundation, the Wellbeing Coalition of Westfield. And one of the wonderful things that they’re going to be doing that I think we need to spread across the state is thinking about reducing social isolation and increasing a web of support. And there’s a gentleman, Derek Peterson, who is a national expert. In addition, the Hamilton County Community Foundation along with the schools and the city in Westfield, is sponsoring a Wellbeing Coalition of Westfield. And they’re really looking at the holistic wellbeing and their goal is to have all people in the community thrive.
TAMARA: Steve, what would change if we took more care, if we took mental wellness seriously?
STEVE: I think we have the opportunity to create a generation that embraces mental health before a crisis occurs. And having one person, I’m on the Board for Youth Mentoring Initiative, have one other relationship with an adult that’s outside your teachers, your parents, and your peer group, because let’s face it, if I just relied on my parents for advice, they’re my parents. And if I relied on my 15 year old peer group, I wouldn’t be here right now. But there was a youth pastor that came into my life and helped me and mentored me and helped me make good choices and identify my values, how to resolve conflict. If we can interrupt that cycle of adversity for some of these kids, the next generation, it looks very promising.
TAMARA: Chris, what would change?
CHRIS: I think it would be a societal change. Accepting people for who they are and not wanting everyone to be the same. Knowing that a community that has many differences is stronger than everyone being the same and accepting people for who they actually are.
TAMARA: One last question. What would each of you say to someone listening right now who is suffering from emotional distress? Bre?
BRE: The number one thing that I would say is, in the silence, there’s someone who cares. There’s someone who’s going to listen to you, and let them walk alongside you, let them support you. I know it may feel like no one cares, no one listens or that is better for you to stay alone and handle this alone, but you’re not the only one. And someone has experienced what you’ve experienced and they care and they want to walk alongside you and make that first call to reach out for help.
STEVE: I think that all of us have gifts, all of us. And our job is to be a good steward of those gifts, cause they’re not ours. So if you’re going through crisis, get help. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to leave a legacy that it’s okay not to be okay and that everyone should be included and that love is a top priority.
CHRIS: it does get better. I know that’s hard to see when you’re in the middle of it, but things work out and things get easier and it will get better.
TAMARA: And Suzanne.
SUZANNE: Definitely talk to somebody. Start with friends, family, people around you, and be open and let them know that you need help. We’re also gonna provide some resources and crisis numbers. You can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and we really want you to make sure that you do connect with someone because we care.
TAMARA: There’s so much more we could talk about, but our time together is up. But I want to note that if anyone listening is in need of support, text 741741 for free crisis counseling. That’s 741741 for free crisis counseling. Or visit havehope.com, We’ll have links to this and more information on our podcast page at cicf.org as well.
And thank you to our guests for this important conversation and we’ll be back next month with another episode of For Good.