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Amie Cajka

Amie Cajka
Amie Cajka is the Director of Community Relations for the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County.The Mental Health & Recovery Board is a county agency that fund, plans and monitors public mental health and substance abuse treatment services for Portage County residents. Last year, the board invested in services that helped more than 7,000 children, teens and adults. The board also funds the 24-hour crisis intervention services which handle more than 39,000 contacts each year. The agency is primarily funded by local levies. To contact the board, call 330-673-1756.

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Portage County – Is this really the “terrible twos”, threes and fours or is it something more? Is this behavior normal preteen rebellion? Why won’t any of the “advice” work with my child? What am I supposed to do now that the problems are serious?

If this sounds familiar, Carrie Martin of Kent understands and knows what it is like to love a child with a mental illness.  Her love and determination to support her child has motivated her to establish the NAMI Basics Support Group in Portage County.

The Basics Support Group is for the parents, grandparents and caregivers of children who have been diagnosed with or shown symptoms of mental illness prior to the age of 13. The group meets on the first Wednesday of the month,  7 p.m., at the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County, 155 E. Main St., Kent. The next meeting is Sept. 3.

There is no cost to join the group which is sponsored by NAMI Portage County, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“For me and many others, there was no ‘normal’.  Or if you were lucky, and there was for awhile, then, something changed overnight.  The problems were really something more.  Unfortunately, at the time, there was no one for me to turn to: family, friends or religious leaders.

“They couldn’t help me any more than all the advice books could. They didn’t know what to tell me or their advice was often critical. Then you begin to doubt yourself,” Martin remembered.

A board member for the local NAMI chapter, Martin is encouraged that today more people understand that mental illnesses can have biological causes. It is more acceptable to acknowledge the problem and seek help, for both the child and parents.

Martin has received training through NAMI Ohio. She plans to eventually offer  the Basics Education Program classes in Portage County. Developed by NAMI, the six-week class provides information concerning various diagnoses, what is actually happening in young brains, resources and coping skills.  Martin encourages parents and others who care for a youth with mental illness to start attending the support group now.

“It is an opportunity for parents and caregivers to be heard and acknowledged by others who have experienced the same things, create friendships and maybe even get a little advice. We’re not doctors but we know what you’re going through and how you feel,” Martin said.

Martin joined NAMI about 6 years ago and has benefitted from the support she receives through the monthly chapter meetings, which are the second and fourth Thursdays, 7 p.m., also at the Mental Health & Recovery Board in Kent. The meetings are free and open.

“Today, there is help. There is hope. Mental illness and disability have come out of the shadows. It is more acceptable to acknowledge the problem and seek help, for both the child and the parents,” Martin emphasized.

For more information, call the Mental Health & Recovery Board at 330-673-1756. Learn more about NAMI Portage County at www.namiportagecounty.org.

Portage County - The Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County is working to spread awareness of Ohio’s new program, Start Talking!: Building a Drug-Free Future.

Found at starttalking.ohio.gov, the website is for parents and teachers. It is aimed at helping adults learn how to start the conversation with teens and children about drug abuse.

“Portage County is among many places in Ohio where deaths from drug overdose have exceeded deaths from car accidents. Start Talking! is a tool for parents and others who work with youth to be able to have critical conversations; especially when the number of accidental deaths is increasing,” says Joel Mowrey, Ph.D., executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board.

The MHRB has developed a postcard highlighting important information about Start Talking! and will be distributing these postcards around the Portage County area. Those interested in helping to spread the word about Start Talking! can also call the MHRB at 330-673-1756 and receive postcards to share at their own school, work or other social functions or events. The postcards give parents and teachers the information needed to access and best use the online resources that Start Talking! provides.

Launched by Governor John Kasich and First Lady Karen Kasich, Start Talking!: Building a Drug-Free Future is a statewide initiative with a focus on preventing drug abuse among Ohio’s children and youth. In addition to the abuse of illegal substances, an increase in recent years of prescription drugs being brought into homes allows these dangerous drugs to find their way into the hands of children and teens and cause addictions just as dangerous as those of illegal substances.

Start Talking! has several components. Know! targets parents and educators of middle school students, providing them with the tools and encouragement to increase communication about substance abuse with youth. This program includes free resources attained through bi-monthly e-mails which contain Parent Tips on how to have the conversation about substance abuse with children and TEACHable Moments to show educators ways in which they can use their position to reinforce messages about drug abuse.

Parents360 Rx is a program that focuses on educating parents and other adults. It helps them to increase their knowledge about substance abuse and improve their confidence in starting the conversation with their children and teens. This program includes an online Parents360 Rx Action Toolkit which is meant to assist parents or other adults in having substance-abuse conversations with adolescents. The Toolkit also includes directions and resources to help school or community leaders, groups or even individuals to host Parents360 Rx workshops of their own in their communities.

5 Minutes for Life is a Start Talking! program geared toward Ohio and local law enforcement officers and how they can help in starting the conversation among Ohio’s youth. This program involves Ohio Highway Patrol, Ohio National Guard and local law enforcement talking to student athletes at the beginning of practices or games and encouraging them to become promoters of healthy and drug-free lifestyles among their peers.

For more information, contact the Mental Health & Recovery Board at 330-673-1756. The board’s website is www.mental-health-recovery.org and can be found on Facebook.

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Portage County - The Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation awarded a $100,800 grant to the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County, Valley Counseling in Trumbull County and Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health in Stark County to implement a tested treatment program using consumer feedback to help counselors adjust therapy as needed for the best possible results.

The three-year grant to set up the Feedback Informed Treatment (FIT) program will impact the work of more than 200 therapists seeing consumers at six Northeast Ohio mental health agencies including four in Portage County: Coleman Professional Services, Townhall II, Family and Community Services, Inc. and Children’s Advantage.

“Patients are more dedicated when they know their opinion matters on whether or not treatment is working,” said Thom Craig, Director of Mental Health Programs for The Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation. “Counseling is most effective when the voice of the patient is valued, and FIT makes this routine. This project is especially exciting because it emphasizes fundamental values, like patient empowerment and genuine listening, making them visible throughout the counseling relationship. Together patient and counselor can track measurable growth.”

Based on 40 years of research, the FIT program is an evidence-based practice, a model which uses the best available clinical research and takes the diversity of the consumer into consideration.  FIT combines the use of a web-based evaluation tool called MyOutcomes with extensive training for therapists and continual consultation support by the creators of FIT.

Mental Health & Recovery Board Executive Director Joel Mowrey, who co-authored the grant, said the use of both FIT and the web-based evaluation tool will help consumers evaluate their own progress and describe improvements or problems that they are experiencing in treatment.

“Therapists will be able to take that feedback and make adjustments to treatment right away. That ultimately benefits the client’s mental health and his or her relationship with the therapist, fostering trust and moving forward with recovery,” said Mowrey.

An internationally-recognized licensed software program, MyOutcomes enables consumers to track their treatment progress and relationship with their therapist by using two different measuring systems. Consumers then obtain instantaneous reports about both their current and past progress and have a visual representation of their improvement or of the problems they are encountering.

“The FIT model creates a healing environment based on feedback that helps consumers focus on improvement and moving therapy along by identifying goals and measuring progress toward these goals. Therapists are then able to redirect sessions as needed. FIT has an excellent track record,” Mowrey added.

FIT incorporates the work of Dr. Scott D. Miller, the founder and director of the International Center for Clinical Excellence in Chicago. ICCE is an international consortium of clinicians, researchers, healthcare managers and educators dedicated to promoting excellence in behavioral health services.

FIT is an integral part of the Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS) that was recently approved by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as an evidence-based practice.  FIT was given the highest rating possible by SAMHSA for easy implementation with detailed training manuals for therapists, support from Miller and his group and trainings.

FIT has been implemented by four other mental health and recovery board areas in Ohio at community behavioral health treatment agencies funded by the boards, as well as nationally and internationally.


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Portage County – Area residents, who have someone in their life living with a mental illness or mental illness and addiction, have the opportunity to join a free local education program starting March 15 in Aurora.

The Portage County Family-to-Family Education Program starts March 15 and will run on Saturdays for 12 weeks from 9:30 am to noon at The Church in Aurora, 146 S. Chillicothe Rd,. Aurora. The national program is sponsored locally by the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County and NAMI Portage County.

The course is open to anyone who has a family member or a friend with a brain disease, including schizophrenia, manic depression, clinical depression, an anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. It provides participants with education about the biology of the brain and the major mental illnesses.

Family-to-Family is taught by local residents who have a family member living with mental illness. There will also be information shared about treatments, rehabilitation services, problem-solving, communication and advocacy. The registration deadline is March 13. Call the Mental Health & Recovery Board at 330-673-1756, ext 201. You can also register at laurab@mental-health-recovery.org. Please leave a name, phone, street address, city and zip code. For more information about the course, go to www.nami.org or www.youtube.com/watch?v=osN2YiNbRrw.

The Mental Health & Recovery Board, a county agency which funds local mental illness and addiction treatment services and crisis services, is online at www.mental-health-recovery.org and on Facebook. NAMI Portage County meetings are on the second and fourth Thursdays monthly at the MHRB office, 155 E. Main St., Kent. The website is www.namiportagecounty.org. NAMI Portage County, whose members are working to improve the lives of persons with mental illness,  is also on Facebook.


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Join NAMI Portage County, a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, for the second countywide Walk for Recovery on Sept. 28 in Kent to support people with mental illness and their families.  

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Portage County – A week-long summer workshop for personnel will focus on how to support and work with students in crisis and who may also have mental health problems.

Registration is now open for the Mental Health Awareness and Crisis Management workshop set for July 15-19. It is sponsored by the Portage County Crisis Intervention Team Education Collaboration and the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. The class will be conducted at the Streetsboro Police Department, 2080 State Route 303, Streetsboro.

Amanda speaks thoughtfully and softly. She is very wise for one so young. She has been through more than her share of heartache, with mental illness in her family and recently a cousin completed suicide.

She’s strong in her knowledge about how to help her family and she’s sharing that education as a teacher for the Portage County Family-to-Family Education Class that starts Saturday, March 16, at The Church in Aurora.

Since the school deaths in Connecticut, our nation has seen more school and community violence, as well as the ramping up of the debate over guns and, just as importantly, over mental health services. Portage has an array of mental health treatment services for children, teens and families supported through funding by the Mental Health & Recovery Board. The board also funds the county’s 24-hour crisis services that help residents who may be threatening to hurt themselves or others and also serve as round the clock  information and referral sources.

My usually good natured husband was looking troubled when I returned from my shopping trip several Sundays ago. How could he have guessed about the new pair of shoes I just had to have? The shoes were far from the problem I learned as he shared this story.

Soon after I had left for an afternoon of retail consumption, a woman came to the front door. My husband didn’t recognize her but thought it might be an acquaintance ofmine. It turned out to be a relative. She lives with her family far from our home. Her visit was a surprise but a welcome one.