“Promoting mental health and wellness, expanding access to services, and improving systems of care through education, advocacy, direct services and partnerships.” This is the mission statement for the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi and thanks to the dedication and first rate leadership of Executive Director, Kay Daneault, it is carried out to the letter. A graduate of USM Gulf Coast, Kay brought her expertise in business and working with non-profits to the Mental Health Association in 2007. She and her husband of 24 years, Rick, have a fifteen year old daughter, Allison, who attends St. Patrick Catholic High School. “This is such a wonderful place to work, as it is a local organization. I personally see people that we help through our programs and hear their heartfelt gratitude. Our Board of Directors and our staff are passionate about our mission. It is a team effort that I am extremely proud of,” Daneault said.
MHASM was organized in 1963 as a grassroots organization to serve the mental health needs of South Mississippi. Today, services provided by MHASM have expanded to include psychosocial rehabilitation/vocational services, homeless outreach, prevention and supportive housing; education, support groups and advocacy. Over the years, many outstanding individuals helped shape the organization; Opal Smith, her daughter, Dorothy Smith Tinsler and Annette O’Keefe are at the top of the list. Opal Smith was instrumental in leading the agency in it’s mission and helped secure the building on Harrison Circle in Gulfport where programs take place today. Dorothy Smith Tinsler has been an Board Member for about 50 years and remains just as passionate and dedicated today as she did from day one. The late Annette O’Keefe was a Board Member and advocate for MHA, She had candidly shared her personal battle with depression and helped many through her generous spirit.
The national organization, Mental Health America (formerly named Mental Health Association) has been in existence for over 100 years. There are affiliates across the United States. Since the national organization is located in the Washington DC area, they are able to stay abreast of what is happening to those affected by mental illness on a federal level. They are able to share these issues and how to address them, state to state, bringing invaluable information across the country. “In recent years, mental health parity has been a huge issue. It is now federally mandated that insurance cover mental illness as they would any other illnesses. So for example, if an insurance policy only covered doctor visits for a mental health related diagnosis, such as depression at 50%, but covered a doctor visit for a physical illness such as Diabetes at 80%, they now have to cover both illnesses at 80%,” Daneault said.
All of the programs offered at MHASM are free to the Gulf Coast community. As is always the case with all grants, there are gaps in funded services, therefore the organization seeks private funding to accomodate the additional needs of the citizens seeking assistance. Today, there are five programs in progress. “Art Therapy and Resilience Education” is used to help in healing through the creation of art, focusing on the Oil Spill recovery. Children can increase awareness of self and others; while learning to cope with symptoms of stress and traumatic experiences. The program includes educational opportunities of resilience and coping strategies for both adults and children. At the Opal Smith Day Support Center, activities for adults aim to improve social adaptation and daily living skills. Symptoms of confusion, anxiety and withdrawl are alleviated. Breakfast and lunch are provided. “The PATH Program” (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) offers Outreach services to the homeless. Staff members travel throughout our community where homeless people are, to give them food and supplies. MHASM works with these individuals to help them gain control of their lives by getting the resources they need. A Supportive Housing Program is designed to assist homeless persons with a mental illness, stay in housing when they graduate from the program. Case management assists with reaching goals such as receiving disability benefits, food, health care and obtaining employment. Last but not least, “Wellness Recovery Action Planning Workshops” are available to offer assistance with Oil Spill Recovery. Significant life enhancement is achieved with gains in self-esteem and self- confidence for both children and adults. MHASM helps send people affected by the oil spill who are homeless, back home to their support system.
For the past year, the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi has been conducting an evidence based program as approved by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration called “WRAP” – Wellness Recovery Action Planning for people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It was designed by Mary Ellen Copeland, PHd., who suffers from her own mental health issues. WRAP can be used in any life situation such as to support medical conditions, or to work through relationships and to handle stress. It is not therapy and can be used by the general public. It is something that is suitable for children and adults as a recovery tool or a method of prevention. MHASM has 12 certified trained facilitators for this program through the Mary Ellen Copeland Center in Vermont. It has been documented that WRAP has touched the lives of 3,469 people to date.
The education programs that MHASM continues to bring to the Coast will help people work through whatever they are feeling, and set goals to become stronger, resilent and self reliant. These programs are well received and graciously appreciated. The grant lasts until June 30, 2012 so Kay Daneault encourages everyone to take advantage of the WRAP program as quickly as possible.