By Arthur C. Evans Jr.
Recently, I happened by a colleague on my way to a speaking engagement. Even though I was in a hurry this day, when I asked, "How are you?" I stopped. I could sense that he was struggling, so I asked again, "No, really, how are you?" He explained that the recent loss of a family member was bothering him, but indicated that the simple act of someone stopping to talk made a big difference in how he was feeling. In addition, I offered to connect him to supportive services, which he appreciated.
That encounter was a reminder of the different roles we all play in offering support to others.
As commissioner of Philadelphia's behavioral health system, I am frequently asked to advise how best to maximize city resources to address a wide range of mental-health and addiction-related issues. The policy and funding decisions we make shape access to quality services and supports.
But there are also times when I'm asked to offer guidance as a psychologist, drawing from my research and clinical background.
In other critical situations, my position and training as a psychologist aren't a factor; being a family member, friend, or colleague is more important.
Regardless of the role, public official, professional, family member, some of the greatest impacts I've had on people came from just listening to them when they needed to be heard.
At such moments, each of us has a powerful role to play. We are fortunate that we not only live in a city with tremendous resources, but that we all can also play a crucial role in helping people get the support they need.
People instinctively know that many of the challenges we face as a community either have their basis in behavioral-health issues, or that those issues are a consequence of the challenges themselves, such as trauma. But people are often not sure what to do about the problems.
Today is National Depression Screening Day, which is not only about raising awareness and connecting people to this invaluable resource, but also makes depression screenings available across the country.
Screening only takes a few minutes, and is both free and anonymous. Here in Philadelphia, we call it a "checkup from the neck up." There are in-person screening events hosted by behavioral-health providers across the city, at libraries, supermarkets, universities, coffee shops, and recreation centers. The city is conducting in-person screenings at the Municipal Services Building and the main branch of the Free Library. For more information, including locations of other screenings today and throughout October, visit healthymindsphilly.org or call 888-545-2600.
Screenings, which can also be taken online, are just one of the ways that Philadelphia is taking a comprehensive public-health approach to support and treat people earlier, to underscore that mental health is an intrinsic part of one's overall wellness, to increase awareness of how common illnesses like depression are, and to let people know that anyone can be affected.
For example, the Mental Health First Aid training program shows how to identify immediate risks, listen without judgment, reassure someone in distress, and guide people toward professional support. This is a free certification program with customized training available for the general public, first-responders, and parents and adults who work with children.
As the nation continues to discuss behavioral health and how our policies must be shaped to better address these challenges, I would like to remind everyone that there is much each of us can do to support people experiencing mental-health issues. For starters, stop and listen, get trained in mental-health first aid, or connect with screening resources.