Getting Vaccinated for the Holidays

Holiday gathering hero

All year the Philly Counts team has been talking to Philadelphia residents to help make the Covid-19 vaccine more accessible. We also wanted to hear from residents about why they decided to get vaccinated – The number one answer amongst Philadelphians we asked was because of their FAMILY!

Last year, we focused on staying distanced from family for the holidays to keep everyone safe.  Now, we have the option of reconnecting with our families, while keeping them safe, thanks to the three Covid-19 vaccines that are available. With different timelines for every vaccine, we have outlined the last possible today to get vaccinated AND be fully protected in time for the holiday season.

  • Moderna
    • Last day to get first dose is October 13
    • Last day to get second dose is November 10
  • Pfizer
    • Last day to get the first dose is October 20
    • Last day to get second dose is November 10
  • Johnson & Johnson single dose
    • Last day to get single dose is November 10

You can find the closest vaccination site by visiting

​LGBTQ+ History Month Celebrates Stories of Courage

October is LGBTQ+ History Month. To celebrate, let’s turn our attention to a couple Philadelphians whose advocacy contributed greatly to the advancement of LGBTQ+ civil rights in the United States.

John E. Fryer was a psychiatrist and a faculty member of Temple University School of Medicine. He was also a homosexual. (A note on usage: Homosexual was the word Fryer and others used to self-identify. Today the term is discouraged in favor of gay and lesbian.)  At the time, a homosexual psychiatrist was thought to be an oxymoron. This was because for much of the 20th Century, “homosexuality” was classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual.

Of course, Fryer and others like him knew there was nothing inherently disordered about LGBTQ+ identity. Due to their personal and professional experience, they understood better than anyone that the classification of homosexuality as a mental health disorder reflected not pathology in individuals, but deep-seated prejudice in the field and in society at large.

Although people like Fryer were ideally positioned to challenge harmful professional practices about sexuality, doing so incurred great personal risk. A psychiatrist who avowed their sexual identity risked the loss of their license and professional ruin. Because of this, LGBTQ+ psychiatrists were faced with a stark choice: conceal their identity or forfeit their careers.

Barbara Gittings was a lesbian activist with a track record for protesting unjust treatment of LGBTQ+ people. She founded the New York chapter of the lesbian civil rights organization Daughters of Bilitis, advocated for visibility of and materials about LGBTQ+ people in libraries, demonstrated against ban on LGBTQ+ federal workers, and more.

In Gittings’s view, the most pernicious obstacle to the pursuit of civil rights for LGBTQ+ people was the assumption that homosexuality is a sickness. With this in mind, she enlisted Fryer’s help to challenge the status quo. Together, they organized a session at the annual American Psychiatric Association (APA) convention titled “Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals: A Dialogue”

Wearing a mask to hide his identity, Fryer made a bombshell declaration at the session: He was a psychiatrist, he was a homosexual, and there was nothing sick or disordered about him. This admission sent shockwaves throughout the convention. Soon after, the APA would go on to declassify homosexuality as a mental health disorder.

As we celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month this October, let’s take a moment to recognize Barbara Gittings and John E. Fryer for their courage and contributions to the advancement of LGBTQ+ civil rights in the United States.

Author: César Mantilla (he/they) is Assistant Manager of Community-Based Services Development at the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. They have extensive professional experience in community engagement as well as with sexual and gender minorities, undocumented individuals, and people living with HIV/AIDS. César has a BA from New College of Florida and MSW from Temple University.

National Depression Screening Day

Imagine a world where we can “call in sick” because our depression is worsening or because anxiety is peaking to a point of emotional and physical paralysis. A world where we can fearlessly acknowledge our mental health challenges and receive support rather than skepticism or judgment. In our society, we are afforded sick days to treat varying physical health conditions, but it is “invisible” pains that create hesitance.

Mental health stigma promotes a falsehood that proof is needed to justify anguish. This year more than ever is important for centering our mental health needs. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly eight in 10 adults identified the coronavirus pandemic as a significant source of stress in their lives. Locally, we witness the daily weight of gun violence, poverty, systemic racism, and trauma. However, we can all contribute towards promoting mental wellness in big and small ways.

Each year, National Depression Screening Day provides an opportunity to break stigma and recognize mental wellness matters. Behavioral health partners offer multiple sites to receive free behavioral screenings along with valuable resources and the support of trained professionals. We can use Oct. 7 as an opportunity to take a behavioral health screening, reach out to loved ones, or normalize mental health challenges, whether someone else’s or, most importantly, our own.

Although this reflection highlights an annual opportunity, let’s strive to create these moments daily.

Reflections on the Recovery Walk

As we come to the close of Recovery Month, it has become ever clearer how fitting this year’s theme was: Recovery is for Everyone: Every Individual, Every Family, Every Community. As the executive director of The Council of Southeast PA and PRO-ACT, I have the privilege of hearing so many recovery stories and, this year in particular, the truth of that statement is powerful.

Knowing how important gratitude is to recovery, I would like to acknowledge and share deep appreciation for those who worked tirelessly to ensure our region has a deep and resilient recovery community. Those of us working in recovery-oriented organizations owe a debt of gratitude to those who had a vision for a different way forward and helped create a new way of understanding a community approach to recovery.

Here in Southeastern PA, those individuals include my predecessor at The Council, Beverly Haberle; former DBHIDS Commissioner Dr. Arthur Evans, who is now CEO of the American Psychological Association; and current DBHIDS Deputy Commissioner Roland Lamb, to name a few.  Roland retires at the end of this month, so I also want to extend my deep thanks to him for his support and leadership – and to the support he has extended to our organization

It is truly an exciting time to be leading an organization that provides peer-based recovery supports. Those who have sought to become certified recovery specialists — or for those in mental healthcare, certified peer specialists — have developed into, to paraphrase Tom Coderre, “a workforce of consequence.” Peers are working in critically important roles in recovery centers like ours, on staff at treatment providers, in hospital emergency departments across the region, in mobile response units, in health clinics, with police departments, and so much more. This robust demand for peers means employers have had to develop creative retention strategies and work to ensure they embrace a peer-friendly culture, provide supportive supervision, and opportunities for advancement.

Peers are meeting people where they are and educating and engaging them with an approach that embraces multiple pathways, is trauma informed, and delivers on the unconditional belief that Recovery Is For Everyone!

This month we hosted our 20th annual Recovery Walks!, held virtually in the interest of keeping our community as safe as possible. Thousands of people came together online, walked in their own community, and helped paint a vibrant, enthusiastic picture of what recovery looks like in our region. It was truly inspirational.

Tom Hill, now with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was one of many leaders who made time to share remarks as part of the program. When describing his path and work in this field, he identified that his life in recovery has given him — and it seems to capture the spirit shared by so many others: “A life beyond my wildest dreams!”

This Recovery Month, I can’t think of a better wish for each and every member of the recovery community!

Author: Jennifer King, Executive Director, The Council of Southeast PA/PRO-ACT

Your Mental Health Back-to-School Kit

Even as we make progress against the COVID-19 pandemic, we know the fight is far from over. DBHIDS is committed to addressing trauma, achieving equity, and engaging community, and we have gathered these wellness tips and mental health resources to help Boost Your Mood in these difficult times.

The Urgency of Connection in the COVID-19 Era

“People care, they love you, and they want to support you. There’s somebody and something in this world that is better because you’re around. I know it might be hard to see, but it’s there. Explore and look for that. You’re important and you matter.” – Josh, survivor of a suicide attempt

In 2019, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 47,500 people. That was before the COVID pandemic — before people got sick or lost loved ones, jobs, and access to family, friends, and social activities. According to a Mental Health America brief, 38 percent of the 725,949 people who completed the organization’s mental health screening had suicidal thoughts in 2020.

And the situation has been even worse among young people. During 2020, the proportion of mental health-related emergency department (ED) visits among adolescents aged 12‒17 increased 31 percent compared with 2019. For girls in particular, ED visits for suspected suicide attempts between February 21 and March 20, 2021 were 50.6 percent higher among girls 12‒17 than in the previous year.

A Needed Perspective

Particularly for teens, we know that the pandemic has taken a terrible toll on mental health. At a time when adolescents are forming a sense of self and how they fit into the world, they have been cut off from a social life. Negative messages on social media can have a big effect. Conflicts at home aren’t improved by other adult interactions. Teens have not had the life experience to develop the perspective of time and the awareness that circumstances can change.

Strategies to prevent suicide among young people include:

  • Strengthening economic supports for families
  • Limiting access to medications and firearms
  • Training community and school staff members to learn the signs of suicide risk
  • Increasing young people’s social connections and coping skills

Talking to a primary care provider is a good first step to connecting an individual at risk to counseling or medical care.

Ask How They are Feeling and Listen

The most immediate and important thing you can do if you suspect someone is thinking about hurting themselves is to ask them how they are feeling. Reassure them that they are not alone. Be available. Show interest, listen, and allow the person to express their feelings without judgment. Support them in thinking about other ways to deal with their feelings, such as talking with a specialist in crisis intervention.

If you are interested in connecting with others who have been affected by suicide, the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention serves the five-county region with information and support. A free Out of the Darkness Greater Philadelphia Walk will be held October 3, 2021, starting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Help is Available

If you or someone you know is in crisis, there is help. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential emergency support for people in distress, prevention, and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. Call 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential support.

Help is also available through the Crisis Text Line. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives your text and responds from a secure online platform. Text TALK to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.

Original article:

Be Mindful This Holiday Season

Across our city, country, and the world, seasonal and religious holidays have not been and will not be the same this year.  For many, the coming weeks are always a fragile time of year, and 2020 is certainly no exception.

Sadly, people have lost family members and friends in recent months, some have lost jobs, and most will not be spending holidays together for health and safety reasons. For some, absent friends or family has always made the holidays difficult, but this year, more of us will feel this emptiness. Our lives have been turned upside down, and some have gone from bad to worse.

Whatever your circumstances, it is not at all unusual to feel overly emotional or act differently than you typically would during these uncertain times. While some may be able to “keep calm and carry on,” there’s nothing wrong with not feeling calm or finding it difficult to carry on.

So what can we do to embrace this year’s holiday season, try to manage our emotions, and carry on?

We can start by accepting that this is a year like no other.We can:

  • Choose not to surrender to negative feelings, accept our situation, learn from it, and find comfort in what we still have.
  • Think back to other harsh challenges we’ve confronted in our lifetime and how we managed to get through those.
  • Give ourselves credit for what we’ve been able to accomplish so far and try to accept what we can and cannot control at this time.
  • Recognize that we are all doing the best we can, and everyone struggles in one way or another.

Remain realistic and still enjoy the present moment.  

  • The holidays don’t have to be perfect- are they ever? Not everything has to be the same as it was in past years.
  • Trying to make things the same, or worse, faultless, will only get the better of you, and you’ll forget that being grateful and hopeful, and if you’re lucky, loved, is what counts. It’s what has always counted.

Seek gratitude this holiday season despite our circumstances and appreciate what we can still do.

  • We can continue to connect with others outdoors, over the phone, or online.
  • We can send cards and good wishes, practice many familiar religious rituals, cook for others, or assist a person struggling to pay bills.
  • If we are fortunate enough to have a home and plenty of food, we can relax, eat seconds, watch a football game or long movie.
  • We can think of creative ways to stay close and give those who have nothing a helping hand.
  • We can read, donate decorations, play games, and worship virtually. We can try out a new recipe, share stories, and make fantastic plans for next year’s holidays.

We can continue to be thankful and hopeful no matter what our situation, and proud of what we’ve been able to manage so far.

The world is hurting, people are suffering, and we all feel the pandemic’s pain and tomorrow’s uncertainty. Let’s be mindful together and place our thoughts on the good around us. Together we can overcome today’s challenges, enjoy the holidays as best we can, and remain hopeful for a better tomorrow.

If you or someone you care about is feeling more than just sad about the holidays or feeling lonely, withdrawn, worthless, or guilty for more than a few weeks, this may be more than just holiday sadness or stress related to the pandemic. For people in recovery, or those struggling with addiction, the holidays can be hard to get through. You are not alone, and we want to help. You can start with a no-cost and anonymous mental health check-up, look through Healthy Minds Philly Resources to begin helping yourself or others, or Get Help Now if support is urgently needed. 

Author: Maria Boswell, Director, Health Promotion Unit, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS)

Originally posted on Healthy Minds Philly

Mental Health and battling depression during a pandemic

CMO of the Department of Behavioral Health Dr. Sosunmolu Shoyinka and CEO and Founder of V.O.I.C.E Laquisha Anthony joined Good Day Philadelphia to talk about mental health and battling depression especially during tough times like a pandemic.

> View Video

Get a Check-Up from the Neck Up

Our mental and emotional health is just as important as our physical health. Too often, we neglect to care for our mental well-being, and if left untreated, can cause serious health consequences. 

Common mental health conditions, such as depression, can happen to anyone at any time. Many people have struggled with depression for years, and for others, challenging times such as the ones we are all experiencing now can bring about symptoms of depression. Know that you are not alone, and help is available. If you or someone you care for feels depressed or needs support, the City of Philadelphia has numerous resources available, including and You can begin your mental health check-up with a quick and anonymous mental health screening and continue reading to learn more about depression. 

How do I know I might have depression?

If you struggle with depression, you can have trouble sleeping (sleeping too much or not enough), trouble concentrating, and very low energy. You can lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, lose confidence in yourself, and feel worthless. Some people have recurring thoughts of death or suicide and can often feel trapped or desperately alone.

Depression can be a very painful and frightening experience. For many, depression can show itself in angry outbursts, frequent crying, irritability, or problems at home, work, or school. Depression can feel like you are all alone, and you can’t imagine that anyone else feels as much pain as you do. Well, that’s not true. Depression affects 40 million families each year, and other people feel and have felt similar to you.

People are reluctant to seek help for many reasons, including embarrassment, shame, fear, and social stigma. For some people, hiding their depression seems like the only solution. For others, finding negative ways to cope (like excessive drinking, overeating, or withdrawal from others) is the only way to get through the day. Many people suffer in silence, waiting a long time to find ways to feel better and get the help they deserve.

Although it might be hard to imagine, if you or someone you care about struggles with depression, people can and do get better. Help, support, and treatment can make you feel better, and it all starts with a first step. We encourage you to check in on your mental and emotional health today, beginning with a quick and anonymous check-up. This beginning step can be the start to a healthier, happier you.

Click to learn more about depression, treatment options, and support.

If you feel like you need to talk to someone immediately or soon, click here for helpful numbers and support. Remember, you are not alone.

Lived Experience

Hunter Robbins
Suicide Prevention Coordinator
Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS)

September is National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. This is a time to highlight the work being done to prevent suicide, spread awareness about helpful initiatives, and share resources within our communities. It is also a time to remember the importance of those with lived experience.  

Lived experience as it pertains to suicide usually means one of two things: either you have lost someone to suicide (a survivor of suicide), or you have attempted suicide yourself and survived. Unfortunately, when we talk about suicide, those with lived experience are often left out of the conversation. Being a survivor of any traumatic experience is not easy. In 2018, there were 48,433 Americans who died by suicide, and a staggering 1.4 million who attempted suicide. To add to that, studies show that for every death by suicide, there are up to 135 people who can be affected by it. This means that in 2018, up to 8 million people could be considered to have lived experience.

Why is it important to highlight lived experience? Studies show that after an individual dies by suicide, there could be a significant increase of suicide risk for close friends and family. There is also evidence that shows individuals with at least one prior suicide attempt have a higher risk of attempting again than the general population.  Those with lived experience not only have to carry the weight of their loss or previous attempt, but also have higher risk of dying by suicide themselves. If you know of someone who would qualify as having lived experience, I urge you to check in with them. Please listen without judgement and provide a safe space for them to share things that they wouldn’t typically share. Providing connection can lower suicide risk.

Those with lived experience have valuable voices that should be informing how we provide suicide care. Individuals who have attempted suicide and those who have lost a loved one know the behavioral health system better than most. They know the good and the bad. Their lived experience provides invaluable insight.  Survivors should be offered places for them to inform the system and show what it means to care for someone struggling with thoughts of suicide. As behavioral health care providers and administrators, we should listen when they tell us what they need rather than force a solution that we think is best. Suicide care is a two-way street.

Talking about suicide loss or one’s own attempt is not easy, but it is necessary to change the stigmatizing culture that still exists. We must start to share our stories of recovery and connecting with those who have similar experiences. This will create safer communities. Communities where those with lived experience do not have to be fearful of how people will react to their stories, but instead be welcomed by resources and support. Suicide may be national public health crisis, but that does not have to be the case in Philadelphia. Please click here to read a lived experience story.

If you or a loved one is thinking about suicide, please do not hesitate to call the National Suicide Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or text the Crisis Text Line (741-741). If you are within Philadelphia County and require crisis assistance, please call the Philadelphia Crisis Line (215-286-4420) or go to your nearest Crisis Response Center.