I had the opportunity to interview Jeff McQueen, Executive Director of Mental Health Association of Nassau County (MHANC). Jeff instantly became one of my favorite people as his kind-spirited and genuine nature came through in our conversation. His passion resonated with me as he spoke about his humble beginnings and now his work at MHANC and the community in which they support. Wow, simply wow!
Social Lifestyle: Tell us about yourself.
Jeff McQueen: This must be a trick question. LOL Not many people like talking about themselves but I guess if I had to say anything that would tell you who I am, it would be that I have humble beginnings. I was born in the Bronx, NY and grew up in South Jamaica, Queens. I grew up watching trauma and its affects in not just my community, but in my household. So once finding proven track of recovery. I wanted to show my gratitude for life by being a conduit of Mental Health and Wellness. I have chosen to spend my life being of service to others and believe that gratitude has a voice. When you are grateful for something you show this by how you treat it and what you use it for. My gratitude speaks in how I care and share with others my path of wellness.
Social Lifestyle: What makes MHANC different from other mental health organizations?
Jeff McQueen: MHANC is a Not-for-Profit organization whose roots were founded on advocacy. It was strategically placed in a segregated community to stand in the way of social injustice and inequality assuring that some of the most vulnerable populations had equal access to health care and can live in the community of their choice. We understand the difference between equality and equity. We know that not everyone no matter the similarities, doesn’t have the same starting point. At MHANC, we believe in providing the support that equalizes the playing field and gives everyone the fair advantage to living the life of their choice. Our product is “HOPE”. Hope that your present situation doesn’t have to be your final destination.
Social Lifestyle: Can you share any case studies with us with any of the members that you serve?
Jeff McQueen: Yes. We have a veteran’s department that serves over 4,000 veterans a year. 5 years ago, a wife came to us expressing that her husband is having suicidal ideation and their marriage is failing. The couple attended our Veterans Couples Retreat and has been involved in our facilitated peer support groups. Today, they have 3 children, own a home and he is doing well maintaining his support. Our organization operates 30 programs among them are housing with 133 beds and financial management helping over 600 members of our community maintain their lifestyle by managing their benefits. We have day programs that helps our participants learn daily living skills and support them in gaining employment. We have crisis services that meet people in the community and help divert crisis to avoid hospitalizations and incarcerations. We facilitate “Empowerment Groups” in the local jails and for probation and parole to help its participants learn their past doesn’t have to be a permanent stain to their future. It’s a program of breaking the cycle of incarceration and recidivism. So, as you can see, we do a variety of things that foster hope in the community and gives our members of the community a chance to break the labels that society and oftentimes media can place on them.
Social Lifestyle: For those of us who don’t suffer with mental health challenges, what are some of the most important facts that you can share with us?
Jeff McQueen: Wow! Great question so here is some of the myth busters. People who live with mental health diagnosis are more likely to be the victims of violence than they are the perpetrators. Talking to someone about suicide doesn’t make them want to do it but is more likely to be the reason that they don’t. 21% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020 (52.9 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults. 5.6% of U.S. adults experienced serious mental illness in 2020. Finally, language is important. We, as a society, must understand that there is nothing “wrong” with people that are diagnosed, but that something has happened to them. Substance Use Disorder and Mental Illness are symptoms to trauma as the cough is to the common cold. Often, this trauma isn’t something anyone has the ability to identify when it occurs. It can be as large as sexual abuse and as small as thunder on the television. We don’t get to pick how life affects us; we only get to choose what we want to do about the effects.
Social Lifestyle: Are children diagnosed with mental health at an early age and what are signs that parents can look for?
Jeff McQueen: Sadly, yes children are, and I think the most common signs are persistent sadness that lasts two weeks or more. Also, withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions, hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself, talking about death or suicide, and outbursts or extreme irritability are other common signs as well.
Social Lifestyle: Recently, there has been an extensive rise in mental health cases. Why do you believe this is so?
Jeff McQueen: As I stated earlier that Mental Illness isn’t about something being wrong with you, but about something happening to you. Lately, our society has been in times of unrest. Covid-19 and the loss of loved ones, survivors’ guilt, and fears of getting ill contribute to our anxieties. Along with this, we have dealt with wars abroad, mutiny upon our own capitol and a heightened awareness of social racism and judicial injustice. We are seeing the results of this trauma in our increasing number of people experiencing emotional distress and the rise of suicide and overdoses in our community. I think if there has ever been a time for our society to identify with traumatic times, it would be now.
Social Lifestyle: Can you tell us about the MHANC membership program that you offer those with health challenges?
Jeff McQueen: Our MHANC membership Program has many advantages for the community. What I think is important to know, is that as a member you will no longer be alone to manage or figure out what to do with the challenges you face. As an MHANC Member, you will become part of a diverse and committed network of Nassau County professionals, families, leaders, advocates, and business owners committed to supporting the mental health of our most vulnerable neighbors: individuals, families, veterans, and people experiencing homelessness.
Together, we stand united as a beacon of hope for our neighbors on the road to recovery. We offer Mental Health First Aid, a national program to teach the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use. We have Community Members, Professional Members and Business Members to learn more about these and what each level has to offer, please visit our website www.mhanc.org or call 973-624-9535.
Social Lifestyle: We are excited to learn about the upcoming Overdose & Prevention Walk coming up on October 8, 2022, at Jones beach. Can you share with us how the day will unfold? Jeff McQueen: Gladly, and we are so excited and proud to be hosting this event. Registration will begin at 8am, it will offer the opportunity to visit a variety of community provider tables and learn more about substance use disorder and what services are available. There will be music and vendor tables that will give you the chance to purchase some swag in support of the walk and pledge a donation. At 9:30am, we will have some announcements and an award ceremony that will acknowledge some community leaders in the work of Overdoes Prevention. The Walk will begin at 10:00am and along the walk you will see banners of community family members telling their stories. There will be refreshments and volunteers along the 3 mile walk to assist you with whatever you need. At the end of the walk, we will have some snacks and refreshments to replenish your energy.
Social Lifestyle: What do you believe will be the biggest take away from the Walk?
Jeff McQueen: I think there will be two important messages. First, knowing you played a major role in helping to bring awareness to a rapidly rising epidemic and the second is the satisfaction of allowing your health to be a contribution to the health and survival of someone who needs your hope to carry them until they have hope of their own.
Social Lifestyle: What other fundraising events will you host throughout the year?
Jeff McQueen: Our organization hosts mental health walks, golf outings, gala for veterans, and a variety of fitness challenges. Please visit our website and calendar to learn more about what’s ahead.
Social Lifestyle: Can we prevent Mental Illness?
Jeff McQueen: We can all suffer from mental health challenges, but developing our wellbeing, resilience, and seeking help early, can help prevent challenges becoming serious.
Social Lifestyle: Are there cures for mental health problems?
Jeff McQueen: It is often more realistic and helpful to find out what helps with the issues you face. Talking, counselling, medication, friendships, exercise, good sleep, healthy nutrition, and meaningful occupation can all help. We don’t look for a cure for the broken leg or finger. We stabilize the wound so that healing permits us to use the limb as close to 100% as possible. In many cases, the wound may still show some outward signs of injury i.e., a limp or abnormal bend in the joint. Likewise, this is the case with mental health. Its not about a cure but despite the trauma, finding a way to get back to living our live as close to 100% as possible.
Social Lifestyle: Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise in the field of mental health and we look forward to seeing you at the Walk.
Jeff McQueen: Thank you for allowing me to shed a light on mental health and the work we do with the community at MHANC. I look forward to seeing you at the Walk.