Mental Health Month: Mind Your Health!

By Christine Pajarillo, Behavioral Health Manager and Nicole S. Mitton, Grant Writer/Communications Specialist

Image credit: Mental Health America

Mental Health Month was officially recognized in 1949. This year, the Mental Health Month theme is “Mind Your Health.” This month and throughout the year, Whittier Street Health Center and other organizations across the country are working to improve public understanding about the important role played by mental health to overall health and wellness, show people how the mind and body interact with each other, and provide tools to protect mental health.

Mental disorders are common in the US and an estimated 22.1% of Americans ages 18 and older—about 1 in 5 adults—suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year (Federal Occupational Health). Mental disorders can also affect children and youth—like with adults, about 1 in 5 young people have mental health problems (National Mental Health Association).

Mental Health and the Environment

The environment has a strong impact on mental health. In the Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan (RDM) Corridor, residents face high rates of poverty that is one of the roots of chronic stress experienced by families. Women are overrepresented as heads of households below federal poverty levels, while Roxbury black males experience unemployment at nearly four times the rate of white males (Brigham and Women’s Hospital Community Needs Assessment, 2013). Crime is also a frequent barrier to mental health in these neighborhoods.

In 2013, over 15% of Whittier’s clinic visits were for mental health and substance abuse services. Fully 50% of those coming for direct care services carry mental health/substance abuse diagnoses. Patients with Depression and Other Mood Disorders account for almost a quarter of these diagnoses (Whittier Street Health Center, UDS Data – 2013).

Understanding Mental Illness

Sadness, anxiety, worry, or sleep problems are common. However, when these feelings get very intense, last for long periods of time, or interfere with daily activities and relationships, it may be a sign of a mental illness. Children can suffer from depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, or eating disorders. Meanwhile, adults can suffer from all the same issues, in addition to mood or personality disorders, schizophrenia, and others.

There may be stigma associated with seeking mental health services, but it is always important to remember that good mental health is crucial to good overall health.

Whittier’s Behavioral Health Department

The Behavioral Health (BH) Department at Whittier is staffed by a team of psychologists, child psychiatrists, an adult psychiatrist, licensed mental health workers, social workers, and a full-time nurse practitioner. To address the high levels of stress faced by our patients as well as residents in the community, we offer a range of services:

  • Early Support and Recovery Group: Mondays, 10 am to 11 am. No referrals necessary—Individuals seeking substance abuse treatment can attend 4 psycho-education sessions, followed by an intake and a psychiatric appointment, if needed.
  • Group therapy sessions, including substance abuse relapse prevention and anger management groups and a stress reduction group.
  • Suboxone groups for opiate detoxification and maintenance, in English, Spanish, and at night.
  • Structured Outpatient Addictions Program (SOAP) groups with immediate access. Groups meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 4:30 pm to 7:30pm.
  • Cancer Survivorship meetings, bi-monthly.
  • The Defending Childhood initiative, where a Direct Care Clinician trained in evidence-based trauma treatments and a Family Partner work with children and their families.
  • Art therapy, including art, music, dance, and drama therapy for children and adults who express themselves best nonverbally. Decision Arts is for girls ages 6-17 who are at risk of being victims of or perpetrators of violence.

If you would like more information about the services we offer, please call:

  • Keshia Icart, Intake Manager, 617-989-3121
  • Michelle Ward, Behavioral Health Unit Coordinator, 617-989-3127
  • Amie Brooks, LCSW, Domestic Violence Coordinator, 617-562-3804 or 617-989-3027
  • Christine Pajarillo, LICSW, Manager of Behavioral Health Services, 617-989-3212

If you or someone you know is in crisis, and there is no BH staff available for consultation, please call the Boston Emergency Service Team (BEST) at 1-800-981-4357.

Remember: Mind Your Health!


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A note about Whittier and COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in our area, we ask all clients and patients to call ahead before coming to any of our sites. We are working to take care of most clients/patients via phone/video encounter so we can meet your ongoing healthcare needs. This is for your safety and so we can provide the highest quality of care to you while following CDC guidance for COVID-19. Please call 617-427-1000 for any questions or concerns.

Whittier will provide COVID-19 testing from 10 am to 4 pm on Monday to Friday. Following CDC guidance, we recommend testing if you have a fever AND one of the following three symptoms: cough OR shortness of breath OR sore throat. Please bring your picture identification and your insurance card (if you have insurance).