May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Although it is a positive step in the right direction to dedicate an entire month to such a cause, mental health is a conversation that should be had year round for those who struggle with stress, loneliness, depression, anxiety, relationship issues, death, suicidal thoughts, grief, addiction, ADHD, mood disorders and other mental illnesses of varying degrees.
The Mental Health Association of Nassau County (MHANC) is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to improving mental health in the community through advocacy, education, program development and the delivery of direct services. Eda Franco, LMSW, MBA is the executive director of MHANC and with almost two years under her belt in the role, she strengthens a team that works tirelessly to squash the stigma around mental health.
“This is my dream job and it has been my career goal for a long time. I’ve been privileged to find an organization rich in history and commitment to Nassau County, particularly around mental health awareness,” said Franco of the organization, which is celebrating 65 years. “Being helpful in the community to address issues that impact our residents and families is of great importance, so we have multiple programs and initiatives available.”
Emphasizing the importance of mental health awareness is all about connecting to the community. According to Franco, MHANC offers the support and education people need to help their loved ones by advocating for the needs of adults and children with psychiatric and emotional difficulties.
“I have an opportunity to influence how people view mental health. We have a wonderful support team here, making sure we are out there in the community connecting with our legislators, county and state officials to ensure that mental health stays in the forefront,” said Franco, who interacts with people to help mold the conversation around mental wellness. “It’s a real issue and here at MHANC, we use mental health first aid to train and educate folks on the basis and understanding of mental health so they know the language associated with it.”
Franco also spoke of the stigma around school shootings, and how quick others are to judge when the term is seemingly thrown about. Statistics have shown that people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violence and while it is a grave concern, Franco believes that it can be prevented.
“There is treatment, recovery and education available. There are things that can help people learn about an issue that is so much a part of our society,” she said of mental health. “It’s something we work at for 12 months, 24/7, 365 days a year.”
In honor of the month, MHANC will host several events both internally and externally to raise awareness about mental health, including an upcoming walk on May 19 at Eisenhower Park, which kicks off at 1 p.m. The walkathon is called “Steps for Hope,” something Franco believes will help her cause when MHANC goes to Washington D.C. in June to see what kind of impact they will have there. “You’re not alone. People can come to us in a judge free zone and talk about their issues, knowing that they will receive support from other families going through similar situations.”
MHANC sponsors 31 services and programs to benefit adults, children, families and the community-at-large. Current programs include daily visits for recovery, education and training workshops, adults receiving financial management and veterans service. Of the veterans, Franco noted that many of the vets are coming home from the most recent war with a host of mental issues.
“We call them ‘cellar dwellers’ because before these vets went to war, they were indoors, growing up on video games,” said Franco, “When they come back home, they come back to that and it is difficult for them to leave the house. Our vets deserve this help, they have earned it.”
For the 65th anniversary, Franco said that there is a big celebration in the works towards the end of the year with events throughout. More than a party, she wants to get the message across that MHANC is here to answer questions and provide support, especially for those who may not yet know how much they need it.
“Mental health isn’t going away,” said Franco. “It is our goal to break down the stigma about mental health so people can gain a better understanding and be responsive to it.”
The Mental Health Association of Nassau County is located at 16 Main St., Hempstead, NY. For more information, call 516-489-2322 or visit www.mhanc.org.