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Get ready for BIPOC Mental Health Month

Black woman hugging her two children

July Is Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which is also known as BIPOC Mental Health Month.

July was first recognized as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in 2008, and was created to bring awareness to the struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the US.

Who was Bebe Moore Campbell?

Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked to expose the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities.

Each year Mental Health advocacy organizations launch their public education campaigns dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

Mental Health America‘s chosen theme for BIPOC Mental Health Month in 2022 is “Beyond The Numbers.”

Mental Health America recognizes that Black, Indigenous, and people of color have rich histories that go #BeyondTheNumbers. While there are stories of resilience born out of oppression, persecution, and abuse, there is immeasurable strength in each of these cultures. In an increasingly diversified America, we acknowledge the specificity of individual and group experiences and how it relates to their beliefs and well-being. BIPOC communities are significantly more likely to develop mental health conditions, and one of the major barriers to mental health treatment is access and the need for understanding mental health support. #BeyondTheNumbers explores the nuances and uniqueness in BIPOC communities.

You can download Mental Health America’s free BIPOC Mental Health Month Toolkit here.

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iCarol Enhancement: Pronouns

Person holding sign that says "Hello my pronouns are" written in multi colors

Happy Pride Month!

At iCarol we live by the Harris Computer Systems core values, including the first and most important value: Respect of the Individual.

Of course that means creating a safe space where everyone is encouraged to live as their authentic selves and express who they are and how they wish to be addressed. That feeling extends to all of our customer organizations and end users of the iCarol software.

In the iCarol Help Center Community, and in responses to our latest customer survey, we received several requests for the ability for volunteers and staff users to note their pronouns within the iCarol system.

We’re excited to announce that sharing one’s pronouns in their volunteer/staff profile is a new enhancement that will be included in our latest release to iCarol. This release is expected to go into affect today, Tuesday, June 14.

Enabling and using pronouns in iCarol is easy. If a volunteer or staff member would like to share their pronouns, they should first edit their profile, then choose their pronouns from the dropdown menu, and click the ‘Save’ button.

select pronoun in icarol volunteer staff profile

Once enabled, a user’s pronouns will appear alongside their name throughout the different areas of iCarol where knowing a person’s pronouns will help you communicate and address them as they wish to be addressed, such as the main Contacts page.

user pronouns on the iCarol Contacts page

And when viewing shifts.

user pronoun on the shift schedule

Learning and then using a person’s correct pronouns creates a healthy and safe workplace environment, conveys respect, and affirms one’s identity. We hope this enhancement will help you and your team support one another and foster inclusion within your organization! If you have any questions, please open a ticket with our Support Team using the iCarol Help Center!

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May is Mental Health Month

Mental Health America Mental Health Month Back to Basics logo

For the last two years society has been living through a pandemic and through it all many people are realizing that stress, isolation, and uncertainty have taken a toll on their well-being.

May is Mental Health Month, and organizations around the world are sharing information about how to obtain and maintain good mental health.

Each year since 1949, Mental Health America and their affiliates have led observance of Mental Health Month. This includes release of an annual Mental Health Month toolkit, which you can download here. They also have a number of resources available on their Mental Health Month web page, this year focusing on Back to Basics — practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their personal situation. Topics include:

  • Terms to Know
  • Starting to Think About Mental Health
  • What Plays a Role in Developing Mental Health Conditions?
  • Maintaining Good Mental Health
  • Recognizing When You Need Help with Your Mental Health
  • What To Do When You Need Help

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is promoting their core message of eliminating stigma, by sharing our stories and the message that those who many be having mental health difficulties or experiencing mental illness are not alone. Mental health conditions affect approximately 1 in 5 individuals during a given year.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has a number of articles and resources available in recognition of Canada’s Mental Health Week (May 2-8) which are available here. Every May for the last 71 years, Canadians in communities, schools, workplaces and the House of Commons have rallied around CMHA Mental Health Week. This year’s theme is Empathy. CMHA states:

It’s the capacity we share as human beings to step into each other’s shoes. To understand where they’re coming from and what they’re feeling. To listen hard and refuse to judge. It’s also one way to reduce and resolve conflict. #GetReal about how to help. Before you weigh in, tune in.

We hope during this Mental Health Month, our blog readers will take the time to engage with these and other mental health leaders to learn more and promote better mental health for all people, especially as we continue to navigate COVID-19, its aftermath, and recovery.

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January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

CW: This blog post discusses human trafficking, abuse, violence, and exploitation.

The United States recognizes January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. While this is designation originated in the US in 2010 by presidential proclamation, many other countries, including Canada, take part in education and awareness around human trafficking and slavery during January as well.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking occurs when someone, using force, fraud, or coercion, obtains some form of labor or commercial sex act from the victim, often for the direct profit of the perpetrators. Traffickers use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure their victims into trafficking situations. Human Trafficking is often described a modern-day slavery. Traffickers may recruit, transport, harbor and/or exercise control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labor.

Who are the victims?

Anyone, of any age, race, religion, sex, or background can become a victim of human trafficking, however certain groups of people are more commonly victimized and enslaved, or vulnerable to trafficking, than others. Women and children are more likely to be victimized than men. Human trafficking particularly affects women and children who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), immigrants or migrants.

How big is the problem?

Human Trafficking and Slavery are more prevalent than most people probably think. According to the US State Department, by some estimates, as many as 24.9 million people — adults and children — are trapped in a form of human trafficking around the world, including in the United States. Instability caused by natural disasters, conflict, or a pandemic can increase opportunities for traffickers to exploit others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, traffickers are continuing to harm people, finding ways to innovate and even capitalize on the chaos.

How can you tell if someone might be a victim?

There are many signs to watch for. A few of the most common are:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Read more about common signs. You can even download an indicator card to carry with you to remind you of what to watch look for.

How you can help

Anyone can join in the fight against human trafficking. If you suspect someone is being victimized, you should not confront them while they are in the presence of the suspected perpetrator, nor should you confront a suspected perpetrator. This could be dangerous for you and the victim. Instead, experts advise you reach out to emergency services or law enforcement to report suspected trafficking.

There are many things you can do to help fight human trafficking beyond reporting suspected trafficking when you see it. You can get involved in your community’s efforts to end trafficking, donate to organizations that fight human trafficking, and much more. Click here for a comprehensive list of ideas for how you can help.

Resources:

Hope for Justice
US Department of State
Administration for Children & Families – Office on Trafficking in Persons
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
The Human Trafficking Institute
Public Safety Canada
Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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“It’s a Wonderful Life” and Imagining a World Without Helplines

This blog was originally published in December 2020. As this pandemic rages on, the message remains relevant, and so we’re sharing it with you again to mark the 2021 holiday season.

Content warning: This post discusses sensitive topics such as suicide and abuse.

In a year as strange and relentless as 2020, I needed a sense of normalcy more than ever this holiday season, and that came in the form of my annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In years’ past, the film’s theme of suicide prevention struck me most. But like a lot of things, the experience of 2020 placed a new filter over the movie for me, and I started noticing elements that, while always there, hadn’t been as noticeable to me before.

The crises of 2020 were relentless. And when the bad news just keeps coming and it feels there’s no end in sight, no clear solution or relief, it can be easy to fall into total despair. George Bailey experiences this very thing in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George passed on his own dreams so the dreams of others could be realized and those he loved could be happy, and for awhile he appears okay with that. Then a series of crises compound, and old trauma and resentments quickly rise to the surface. George, completely devoid of hope and solutions, is now staring into the icy churning waters of a river flowing beneath him. For all his good deeds and sacrifices, look at how bad things are. What was it all for? He contemplates how the world might be better off if he wasn’t here, or if he never existed at all.

George’s scenario got me thinking about the exhaustive work so many people have been doing all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, only to have things stay the same, or get worse, day in and day out, with no relief in sight. When there’s no clear impact or positive change to motivate you, to reassure you that your sacrifices and work matters, how do you keep going? How do you resist despair and hopelessness?

I think the answer is similar to what we see in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George can’t see his positive impact until he’s shown a world without him in it. Perhaps we need to briefly imagine what the world would look like without those forces of good working hard to help others.

What would our world look like now if helplines, contact centers, and other community services didn’t exist?

Contact centers and Information and Referral services like 2-1-1 commonly act as their community’s primary source of information about COVID-19, providing information on everything from common symptoms to look for and where to go to get tested. In many cases 2-1-1 became the official state/provincial source of COVID-19 information. Without that centralized information delivery service, health departments, emergency rooms, and medical offices are overwhelmed with people seeking information. Phone lines jam and human resources are syphoned from direct care treating those who are ill. Fewer people know where to get tested. More people get sick, and more lives are lost as a result.

The economic fallout from the pandemic will be with us for some time. Some say the financial recovery may take longer than public health recovery. Thankfully, people looking for financial assistance for their very survival—help with utilities or food—had places to reach. Places where a compassionate and knowledgeable specialist could, in a single interaction, provide ideas and resources that may help with several needs. Without those contact centers, those in need are left feeling lost and overwhelmed. Already worn down by their situation, they must now spend time and effort navigating the network of community services on their own. They don’t know how the systems work. They are frustrated and even more overwhelmed. It takes longer to access assistance. They miss several meals. They only find out about a fraction of the services for which they were eligible.

Quarantines and stay-at-home orders kept people at home more, and for many the people they live with are a source of comfort. For others, it’s a source of conflict or even danger. Suddenly, vulnerable individuals suffering abuse at the hands of a parent or partner, or LGBTQIA youth living with unsupportive family members, were cut off from their daily escapes and support systems. Without services specializing in providing safety and emotional support, they become more isolated. Tensions in the household rise. Abused partners and Queer youth have no professional confidential counseling to access quietly and privately through chats or text messages. There’s no emergency shelter to escape to.

Viruses and physical health have taken center stage this year, but the mental health toll is undeniable. We’ve been going through a collective, worldwide trauma. Everything familiar was disrupted and the entire concept of “normal” disappeared overnight. Many people are experiencing emotions they aren’t sure what to do with, and they aren’t ready to talk to their friends or loved ones. Others lack those connections and are processing things all on their own. Imagine a world without an outlet to help one cope with those feelings. No warmlines or impartial empathetic listeners, no crisis or suicide prevention services. The emotional suffering deepens and spreads, and we lose even more people to a different type of pandemic—suicide—that was present long before COVID-19.

So yes, 2020 was the worst, filled with more crises happening all at once than many of us could have imagined. And in a seemingly never-ending string of challenges, it may feel at times like your contributions, all your exhaustive efforts, aren’t making a dent. If reassurance and evidence of your impact seems elusive, think back to George Bailey’s tour of seedy Pottersville, the bad place version of Bedford Falls. Close your eyes and take a stroll through that scary, imaginary world without organizations like yours, and see that things could actually be much worse. It’s because of the good work of those who care, like you, that it isn’t.

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Happy New Year from iCarol

It’s hard to believe that soon we’ll be closing out yet another year. The passage of time has felt especially fast lately. The year prior, everything was exceptionally strange and most agree 2020 far overstayed its welcome. By comparison, the months each felt only a few days long throughout 2021.

For our customers, 2021 was another year where you were asked to do more for your communities than ever before, stretching your resources as much as possible to meet emergent and rapidly evolving needs. Many of our customer organizations continued to play a critical roll in COVID-19 response, for example contracting with local health authorities to take calls for COVID-19 hotlines and in many cases assisting with vaccine rollout efforts. As a result, you have improved the health of your communities and helped save lives. We couldn’t be more proud or honored to be associated with the amazing work you do.

The global pandemic advanced the need for communities to solve problems by coordinating efforts between agencies to reduce duplication of work and ease participation for consumers of services, all while collecting and sharing important data to prove impact that drives creation of new services and the funding to make it happen. As a result, we’ve received more requests than ever before from customers who need to participate in health information exchanges, securely pass intake information to a partner, and close the loop on outcomes and results of the services received. We’re delighted that our customers are making use of iCarol’s flexibility to help you leverage your data and say “yes” to these projects, and it has motivated us to continue to stay ahead of the innovation happening in these areas. Meeting your needs with technology, and giving you options in how you can engage with others to help your communities, will always be something that drives us here at iCarol.

Looking ahead, we know that the impacts of COVID will be with us for a long time to come, and so we’re prepared to continue brainstorming solutions with you as needs evolve. We expect the mental health and economic impacts to reverberate for years to come, which means your core services providing listening and empathy, connection to helpful services, and crisis intervention will be more important than ever. It’s appropriate timing that the U.S. will launch three digit dialing for suicide prevention and mental/behavioral health crises in the form of 9-8-8, coming in July of 2022. We’ve spoken to many organizations who will be participating 988 centers asking us how iCarol can assist. We’re committed to helping this new network meet its goals of creating better, more comprehensive mental and behavioral health systems and look forward to those continuing conversations, your ideas, and finally seeing 9-8-8 become a reality in July.

In envisioning new and better ways for the systems of care to work, we understand that your work is growing less transactional and more about seeing someone through a situation long term, building a relationship and being a part of their network of support. To that end, you may recall we asked you some questions a few months back about your case management needs and how well they are being served by us. We’re excited to say that thanks to your feedback, we’ve discovered several areas where we can improve and add tools to iCarol that will help you do this work better. To learn a bit more about this, I hope you’ll join our upcoming annual “State of iCarol” webinar in January where we’ll share some of what we have in mind for these sorts of developments in 2022. Stay tuned to the blog, and watch your iCarol Dashboard and email inbox for an invite. If you don’t already get our emails, I hope you’ll sign up here so we can stay in touch with you.

I hope that each of you, and your entire teams, can take time to be with the people and do the things that are most meaningful and rejuvenating for you. We see you, your dedication to your work of helping others and improving the world around you, and the clear positive impact you have. We look forward to another year serving you and wish you a happy holiday season and a bright New Year.

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December Support Training: Referral Q Capacity Tracking and Provider Portal

The iCarol Support Team holds monthly trainings on topics that our customers want more information about. These trainings are offered on the third Wednesday of every month at 2pm Eastern.

Our topic for the December webinar is ReferralQ & Capacity Tracking and Provider Portal features.

ReferralQ and Capacity Tracking enables you to document and track referrals to a particular service that you work closely with, including information such as the service’s capacity to accept referrals. The Provider Portal is a separate product that complements ReferralQ by inviting your partners secure, direct access to view and update authorized ReferralQ information. With the Provider Portal your partners can input their program’s capacity to take referrals, obtain Contact Record or Intake information about the help-seekers referred to them, and update the status of a referred help-seeker as they work with the CBO.

We’re excited to share more information about these products with our customers on our next monthly training webinar!

Date: Wednesday, December 15
Time: 2pm Eastern

During this webinar, participants will learn:

  • What is the ReferralQ & Capacity Tracking feature?
  • What is the Provider Portal feature?
  • How can these features be used together?
  • What are some use cases for the features?

We welcome and encourage our customers to attend! You can find the registration link on the Admin Dashboard or in our Help Center announcements.

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Stigma is Scary – People Living With Mental Illness Are Not

pumpkins stacked on top of a bale of hay

One of the things I like most about Halloween is that it offers such a wide range of ways to participate and have fun. Horror movies not your thing? You can stick to fun activities like carving a jack-o-lantern and handing out candy to trick or treaters (in normal, non-pandemic years at least). And then there are the endless costume possibilities. You can be anything from a superhero to your favorite movie character to some very obscure cultural reference or the more traditional choice of ghost or vampire.

So with that range of costume possibilities and ways to have fun in mind, it’s always deeply upsetting to see Halloween become an event where mental illness is misrepresented and stigmatized. Some haunted house attractions are centered around “asylum” themes, or have a “haunted psych ward” component. Actors wearing straight jackets or wielding weapons chase visitors and shout lines about hearing voices. The message is very clear: Mental illness, and people who experience mental illness, are scary, violent, and to be feared.

In recent years, several costumes have been pulled from the shelves following pressure from mental health advocates. Unfortunately every year there are still a few new inappropriate and offensive costumes that pop up and make their way to stores and online retailers, and regrettably they are eventually seen out in public at bars and parties. And each time one is sold and then worn, it perpetuates the stigma and misconceptions around mental illness.

These interjections of mental illness into Halloween are neither fun nor harmless, but keep in place harmful stereotypes. These attractions and costumes continue pushing the idea that a person living with mental illness is violent and should be avoided. Discrimination is still a problem for people living with mental illness, and every day those who experience symptoms choose not to seek help for fear of mistreatment by the public, or that their relationships with family and friends will suffer. These depictions also hurt those who have experienced mental illness, especially those who have been hospitalized. Their deepest fears about what society thinks of them are realized when they see illness become a subject of fear-based entertainment.

It would never be acceptable to have haunted houses set in a hospice or cancer wing of a hospital, nor would we find cancer patient costumes to be appropriate. It’s important that we all speak up when we see mental illness being stigmatized, and stand up for those who have experience with illness and are negatively impacted by the perpetuation of stigma.

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October 3-9 is Mental Illness Awareness Week

Each year during the first full week of October, mental health organizations draw attention to mental health conditions through Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that effect millions of people, however they are still misunderstood and stigmatized, and those living with these conditions still face prejudice that those with other medical conditions don’t experience.

The aim of Mental Illness Awareness Week is to provide public education highlighting the fact that these illnesses are medical conditions and should be treated as such.

For more information on Mental Illness Awareness Week, and to participate with promoting the efforts around public information on mental illness, visit these resources:

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Mental Health America releases 2021 Back to School Toolkit

high school students wearing masks

Returning to school and beginning a new academic year can cause feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in any circumstances, but the impact of COVID-19 makes the event extra stressful on students, parents, and educators alike.

Each year, Mental Health America releases a back to school toolkit aimed at helping people start the new school year right with healthy habits and an awareness of stress and mental health. MHA focuses on the need to prioritize mental health and emotional well-being so that all students can thrive both in and out of the school setting.

The 2021 Toolkit is titled Facing Fears, Supporting Students and contains hands-on materials such as:

  • Fact sheets for parents and teachers
  • Fact sheets for children and teens
  • Key messages and statistics
  • Sample articles and social media posts
  • Worksheets
  • and more!

The 2021 Mental Health America Back to School Toolkit is available now on the Mental Health America website.

Download the Toolkit

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