Angela Petersen and her daughter, Mishala Petersen, love to paint rocks together. They enjoy being outside in nature enjoying the beautiful scenery. (Ken Fall, KSL-TV)
SPANISH FORK — Experts are calling the mental health challenges many people are now facing the second wave of the pandemic. While they’ve seen an increase in demand, they remind families there are resources and people ready to help.
One Utah family is grateful it reached out years ago.
Some people paint on canvas, and others? They paint on rocks.
“Oh, I think it’s very therapeutic and relaxing,” Angela Petersen said. “Then we go on little hikes on river trails, and we hide them for people to find.”
For Peterson and her daughter, Mishala, it’s all about the thrill.
“Who doesn’t like to find a surprise?” Peterson said.
Plus, they said it’s good for their mental health. About 10 years ago, when Mishala was 18, Petersen realized their family needed help.
“She was very combative and she was very anxious … she didn’t smile as much, and she just didn’t seem happy,” Petersen said of her daughter.
Looking back, Petersen said Mishala exhibited signs of mental illness early on, but she didn’t recognize them at the time.
As a parent, Petersen felt isolated and didn’t know where to turn as things progressed. “It seemed like everything we tried to do we made things worse, and so we didn’t really know what to do,” she explained. Finally, a friend told her about the Mental Health Services Awareness Night and she attended for the first time.
Intermountain Healthcare’s Tammer Attallah, a licensed clinical social worker, said this event facilitates connection to resources and other people facing a similar situation.
“(It’s) an opportunity for people to really understand what’s available within their community,” he said. “Making that connection with other family members who are also struggling really creates a bond that helps people want to get through that experience and persevere.”
Petersen discovered NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, at the summit and started attending family support classes.
“It was just life-changing,” she said. “Through this NAMI class, I learned about ‘What is mental health?’ I mean, most of us are ill-prepared. We don’t know anything about it until we have a loved one that has the condition.”
She also gained a community of others who understood her situation. “Other people are going through similar things and they’re so open and honest and willing to share their stories and their struggles,” Peterson said. “Now I know I’m not alone.”
Attallah said this sense of community is vital for success. “Well, first of all, knowing that you’re not alone is really, really critical, right?” he said. “Once you realize that you’re not alone, your desire to want to get help and support goes up.”
Peterson said she finally started getting answers. “What are some of our triggers? What are the medications?” she explained. Most importantly, the resources she’s found over the last 10 years have given Peterson a new perspective on Mishala’s diagnosis.
“I was going in thinking I needed to fix her,” she said.
Instead, she gained empathy.
“I love her just the way she is and I needed … to be the person that was there to support her no matter what,” she said.
Attallah credited the pandemic for a rise in mental health needs across the nation and Utah. “We’re seeing significant increases in demand across our system,” he confirmed.
Mental health is not the person, it’s the situation and the opportunity to get help is there. You just have to reach out and take it.
–Tammer Attallah, a licensed clinical social worker
He urged people to not delay care. “The earlier you can identify those issues, the more straightforward and the more successful your care can be,” he said. “Mental health is not the person, it’s the situation — and the opportunity to get help is there. You just have to reach out and take it.”
He said there are plenty of resources available ready to give families the tools to better navigate mental health. “Getting care and staying connected to your families really can create positive outcomes, not only for the individual that’s struggling but for the entire family,” Attallah said.
Petersen knows Mishala’s mental health condition is something they will continue to manage every day, but she is so proud of her daughter. “She’s just the most loving, kind giving person I’ve ever met, and she never gives up,” Petersen said. “She makes it through every day with a smile on her face.”
Petersen wants to help others by sharing what she has learned. She now volunteers with NAMI facilitating family-to-family support classes.
“You can’t know what you’ve never been taught, and I knew nothing about mental health. But now I do, and I feel like I’m really trying to advocate for her,” she said. “Find a resource that will work for you and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
This year’s Mental Health Services Awareness Night will be held on Aug. 19 from 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It’s a free event for the public. People can register here.
For those who need more immediate help, call Intermountain Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Navigation Line at 833-442-2211. “They’ll help you understand what your needs might be and then connect you to the right services and support,” Attallah explained.