Mental Health Month on Block Island

Conference to focus on depression, anxiety

May 18 and 19, free and open to the public
Fri, 05/11/2018 - 6:15am
Category: 

The following was submitted by NAMI-Block Island:

The title of NAMI-Block Island's second annual spring conference, “Depression: A Community Conversation — What do we know? What can we do?,” invites the public to learn about depression as a mental illness, its causes, treatments, and attitudes, and how to treat these conditions.

From a funny and touching film plus music on Friday night, to Saturday's lineup of a TED talk overview of the disease, and three speakers on suicide and depression, and ending with a roundtable discussion focusing on addressing depression's effects on the old and the young on Block Island, the theme of “community conversations” runs throughout the program.

The conference is presented by the Block Island affiliate of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) on the weekend of May 18 to 19, 2018 in observance of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. All conference events are free and open to the public.

The Harbor Church's Common Ground Coffeehouse will host the prelude Friday evening, May 18, at 7 p.m. A film adaptation of “Every Brilliant Thing,” a one-person play written by Duncan MacMillan, will be followed by music and discussion led by folksinger and therapist Ed McGuirl.

The film's protagonist — described as a kind of “everyman” — shares an inventory of all the things that make his life worthwhile. He began the list as a very young child desperately hoping to offer his suicidal “Mum” reasons to go on living — his own childlike attempt to keep her from taking her life.

The evening begins with a light supper at 6:30 p.m., followed at 7 p.m. by an introduction of the conference and the theme of depression, then the movie, then songs and discussion led by McGuirl. He has observed island residents and visitors over many years of performing on Block Island. His “day job” is as a licensed counselor with Bridgemark, Inc., based in Warwick. (There is no charge for the meal, but donations to the performer are welcome. The Harbor Church operates the coffeehouse year-round on Friday nights.)

On Saturday, May 19, the conference will continue at the Island Free Library from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A light breakfast will be served at 9:30 a.m.

The opening session, at 10 a.m., features a TED talk by Andrew Solomon, “Depression, the Secret We Share,” an informative overview of the causes and treatments of depression, and the attitudes surrounding it. Questions and discussion afterward will be facilitated by Elspeth Crawford, Ph.D., a retired trainer in counseling and education in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is a part-time island resident and NAMI-BI board member.

The speakers at the morning and afternoon sessions will share from their personal and professional experiences of living and working with persons suffering from anxiety and depression. The conference planning committee hopes that they will be a springboard to discussion, developing an exchange with audience members leading to a meaningful community conversation about how to assist island residents and visitors coping with these diseases.

At 11 a.m., Janice Vashon will speak on “Surviving Suicide,” tapping into her own traumatic experience of witnessing her father’s suicide when she was seven. Eventually diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Vashon is passionate about sharing her experiences and advocating for persons with mental illness. She is a member of the International Association of Peer Supporters and serves on the board of the Newport County Community Mental Health Center in Middletown, R.I.

Following a lunch break from noon to 1 p.m. (lunch is not provided), the conference continues with sessions focusing on how depression affects the elderly and youth.

“Depression in Seniors,” at 1 p.m., features Kevin Lyn Sisson, a mental health counselor at the New England Center for Anxiety, with offices in Westerly and North Kingstown, R.I. Sisson has a Bachelor’s in Women’s Studies and Psychology, a Master’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management and a Master’s in Counseling with a concentration in geriatrics. He works extensively with children and adolescents, and has a special interest in working with adults, caregivers, and seniors coping with anxiety, depression, chronic illnesses and end-of life-issues.

After a half-hour break, Marie-Claire Cornillon will address “Depression in Teens” in an interactive session at 2:30 p.m. A licensed independent social worker and colleague of Sisson at the New England Center for Anxiety, Cornillon identifies anxiety as a predominant factor in most of the areas of counseling she has worked in: substance abuse, mental illness, physical illness, education and trauma. She is a Rhode Island native holding a Master’s in Social Work and has been trained in many treatment strategies.

The closing “Community Roundtable,” from 3:30 to 5 p.m., will be a panel discussion and question-and-answer session focusing on how Block Island can respond to the needs of people with depression and anxiety. The panel will be moderated by Lisa Sprague, a member of the Block Island Volunteer Rescue Squad who is also active in other island organizations. Other islanders scheduled to participate are Dr. Mark Clark, Medical Director of the Block Island Medical Center; Tracy Fredericks, NAMI-BI’s Case Manager for the psychiatric telemedicine service provided by Brown University and Butler Hospital; Ed McGuirl, licensed counselor; Maryann Seebeck, RN, Human Services Coordinator for the Town of New Shoreham; and consumer of mental health services Patrick Tengwall.

The Ross Campbell Memorial Award will be presented at the start of the round-table.

The May 18 and 19 conference is the second such annual event sponsored by NAMI-Block Island; last year’s topic was the opioid crisis.