Wellness Blog

"Wellness is not the absence of illness but the presence of purpose in life; satisfying work and play, joyful relationships, a healthy body and environment— and happiness"

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Thursday, April 27, 2017

When you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health concern, sometimes it’s a lot to handle.

It’s important to remember that mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. Yet, people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem.

That is why this year’s theme for May is Mental Health Month — Risky Business — is a call to educate ourselves and others about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves.

Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path towards crisis.

Mental Health Month was started 68 years ago by Mental Health America, to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone.

Stairways Behavioral Health is raising awareness of the important role mental health plays in our lives and encouraging members of the community to learn more about their own mental health and to take action immediately if they are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness.

This May is Mental Health Month, we are encouraging people to educate themselves about behaviors and activities that could be harmful to recovery – and to speak up without shame using the hashtag #riskybusiness – so that others can learn if their behaviors are something to examine. Posting with our hashtag is a way to speak up, to educate without judgment, and to share your point of view or story with people who may be suffering—and help others figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness.

Stairways wants to help people learn what they can do both to protect their mental health and know the signs of mental illness.

If you or someone you know is struggling, talk about it! Call us at 453-5806.

Stairways represented at regional suicide conference

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Service providers, mental health professionals and those personally affected recently joined together to help shine a light on a topic that is ignored all too often.

The Erie County Suicide Task Force, a consortium of professionals, survivors and families working to prevent suicide in the community, held its second annual conference at the Ambassador Banquet and Conference Center Sept. 30. Task force members in attendance included staff of Stairways Behavioral Health, a sponsor of the event which brought in an audience in excess of 300 people.

As part of their position on the task force, Jana Zybowski, Kelly Roberts and Rashell Ulrich of Stairways’ Blended Case Management (BCM) program were active in helping assemble this year’s conference.

The conference was broken down into morning and afternoon workshops and included presentations and displays by the sponsoring organizations.

The morning workshop consisted of a panel discussion on the topic of suicide survivors and presentations on children, trauma and evidence-based suicide intervention. Following a lunch that included introductions and recognitions, attendees also heard presentations on the topics of the biology of suicide and took part in a second workshop that included addresses on crisis intervention and suicide and the elderly.

Zybowski, Roberts and Ulrich all described as eye-opening the presentation that highlighted the role biology and physical irregularities play in suicide. The research that was presented pointed to mitochondrial imbalances and cerebral folate deficiency (CFD) as factors that could influence suicide.

“Looking at the biology of suicide is what was really of interest to me,” Zybowski said. “There isn’t much that is known about it yet because the research is new, but if it is able to pinpoint the physiological components and say that suicide isn’t just about being depressed, it could change the way we look at suicide.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) was a key sponsor of the event and is a funder of much of research on suicide. Ulrich is a main volunteer for the local AFSP chapter and helped facilitate its involvement in the conference.

“There isn’t always a lot of funding there yet for much of what we saw but a lot of the research at the conference came from what the AFSP was able to fund,” she said.

Experts on the issue of suicide, including researchers from education institutions such as the University of Pittsburgh and Mercyhurst University as well as those from service providers, such as Safe Harbor Behavioral Health and the Warren Psychiatric Institute presented on the topic. Advocacy organizations, including American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Boots on the Ground, a group dedicated to the issue of suicide and veterans, also served as presenters.

Participants of the conference also had the opportunity to receive education credit hours.

In Erie as well as statewide, the prevalence of suicide is staggering. According to the AFSP, suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death in Pennsylvania. Among children ages 10-14, it is the leading cause of death, and ranks as the second-leading cause for persons between the ages of 15 and 34.

The task force began in 2010 when the Erie County Department of Health conducted a needs assessment that revealed Erie and its surrounding counties needed to build a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention, policy, awareness and education. The team now consists of more than 30 members, including professionals in the mental health field.

Roberts noted the mission of the task force being consistent with the work of Stairways.

“We heard a lot about the primary issues that contribute to suicide, like housing and other things, things that BCM already does that are so central to the issue,” Roberts said. “This is really in step with what Stairways is undertaking.”

BLOOM hosts German Cultural Society of Erie

Monday, August 24, 2015

German Cultural Society

The German Cultural Society of Erie said “Danka Schoen” to BLOOM Collaborative when it held its June meeting at the holistic art and wellnesscenter the evening of June 11.

Some 75 club members experienced BLOOM’s artistic zeitgeist by creating fused-glass dreamcatchers and touring its 4-acre campus. The club also presented BLOOM director Lee Steadman with a token of their appreciation for playing host in the form of a donation.

Right: Wayne Koble, Stairways Board treasurer and German Cultural Society member, presents a check to Lee Steadman, Director, BLOOM Collaborative.

Stairways Case Manager to Participate in National Suicide Walk in Memory of Brother

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rashell Ulrich knew she had to find a way to remember him.

Her brother had meant too much to her to let something as conclusive as suicide have the final word on him.

Dealing with the grief would be a challenge in itself, but appropriately honoring her brother would become her mission.


On a late August afternoon in 2010, Jamie Wilt and his girlfriend, Magen Porter, were on their way to catch the sunset aboard his motorcycle when a drunk driver blindsided the couple at an intersection.

Porter, the passenger, died at the scene. Wilt was in critical condition but would pull through.

Though he sustained injuries including a punctured lung and broken bones, it was Porter’s death that rendered Wilt a broken man. During the months that followed the crash, it was clear life was difficult for Wilt, a person his family had always leaned on during trying times.

“My brother was always the strongest person that I’ve ever known—he was not scared of anything,” Rashell said. “After that accident, he couldn’t sleep at night, he was depressed, he definitely had post-traumatic stress.”

Without treatment, Wilt never recovered from the psychological wounds he incurred that late summer day and died by suicide the following March.

For Rashell, she didn’t just lose her younger brother, but one of her best friends and the man who walked her down the aisle at her wedding.

“My brother’s death impacted me in ways that are unimaginable,” she said. “I’m a different person, but I knew I had to do something.

“If I didn’t have something to keep his memory alive, I don’t know how I would survive this whole thing.”

On June 27, Rashell will have a chance to honor her brother’s memory on a national stage when she walks more than 16 miles overnight at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) Out of the Darkness Walk in Boston. Having raised the $1,000 that is required to participate, she will be joined by thousands of other walkers whose lives have been in some way affected by suicide.

“It’s very weird, but the second my brother died, I knew I needed help,” she said. “And I just found them.”

For Rashell, that “them” was the AFSP, a non-profit organization dedicated to the fight against suicide through research, education and advocacy.

Since Wilt’s death, Rashell has become increasingly involved with AFSP. She has attended the organization’s national conferences and has helped organize Erie’s community Out of the Darkness Walk, AFSP’s annual walk against suicide held in cities across the United States.

This year, the local walk will take place Sept. 27 at Presque Isle State Park.

By taking part in the national walk, Rashell hopes that others in similar situations to her brother may be inspired to seek help when struggling.

“Guys like my brother — who are these big strong guys who take care of everybody— and then he gets sick and won’t get help for it,” Rashell said. “I want guys like him to feel safe getting help.”

To that end, Rashell will decorate a luminary adorned with Wilt’s photo and a candle that will join thousands of others lining the walk route—each representing a life touched by suicide.

“It’s very special to me that my brother will be lit up and represented there,” Rashell said. “My whole point in doing this was to have him represented.”

To contribute to Rashell walking in honor of her brother, click http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=753305. Rashell will also be selling for $5 apiece Country Fair coupon books valued at $25. One-hundred percent of the proceeds will go to AFSP Erie.

For more information about the Out of Darkness walk, visit https://www.afsp.org/out-of-the-darkness-walks.

Stairways staff experience 'Voices'

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

“You’re stupid; you’re going to screw it up!” “Look at you, you’re a mess!” “Don’t touch it!”

Imagine hearing these insults hurled at you while trying to carry out daily tasks or answer basic questions.

That was the experience a group of Stairways Behavioral Health employees had the opportunity to gain insight into during a recent auditory simulation workshop called Hearing Distressing Voices.

Hearing Distressing Voices is an innovative training program developed by psychologist and disability-rights activist Dr. Pat Deegan that helps people understand the challenges that face people with psychiatric disabilities.

During the training facilitated by Elena Caplea of Community Care Behavioral Health, participants listen to voices through headphones while completing a series of tasks such as taking a mental status exam, social interaction with the community and filling out word puzzles.

All Stairways employees who participated in the training reported having difficulty with concentration, memory and compliance with basic commands. Negative feelings, such as frustration and embarrassment were also the consensus among the group. Each member, however, said that the experience was illuminating and would cause them to be even more understanding.

Their experience was not uncommon for those who have taken part in the training.

On a June 2014 episode of his TV news show Anderson Cooper 360, Cooper hosted Deegan and took part in the simulation. When asked to complete tasks and answer basic questions, the usually astute broadcaster struggled, describing the simulation as “eye-opening,” “isolating” and “extremely unpleasant.”

In addition to listening to the voices, the workshop also includes a one-hour recorded lecture of Deegan, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager, explaining the experience of hearing voices and how people can respond to it.

To view Cooper’s experience with Hearing Distressing Voices and his interview with Deegan, visit http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2014/06/09/anderson-takes-part-in-an-experiment-to-help-understand-how-people-live-with-mental-illness/?hpt=ac_bn5.

For more information on Hearing Distressing Voices, visit https://www.patdeegan.com/pat-deegan/training/hearing-voices-training.

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