Fighting Against Mental Health Stigma

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and the leading cause of disability worldwide. Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. For some individuals, it can interfere with their ability to accomplish daily activities.

Despite reports from the National Institute of Mental Health that 6.7% of all U.S. adults have experienced at least one depressive episode, stigmas remain attached to mental disorders. This form of societal prejudice was familiar to Melodie well before she began struggling with her own depression.

“My sister is mentally ill and there was a stigma attached with that,” says Melodie, a patient at United Way-funded Far West Center. “We were always told at home not to tell anyone about it and that it was a secret.”

Then, Melodie and her friend were involved in a serious car accident that dramatically impacted Melodie’s mental well-being. “After the car accident, I withdrew myself from all social activities. I knew I needed help. My sister was coming to Far West, so I went with her to a group therapy class. Afterward, an employee approached me and said, ‘Let’s see you by yourself too.’”

Expression Through Art Therapy

With United Way funding, individuals in the Greater Cleveland area are granted access to counseling, art therapy and other therapeutic methods to treat depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.

After several sessions at Far West Center, Melodie still struggled with socializing with others. She tried different forms of therapy until she began attending the center’s art club to help treat her depression. It was then that Melodie began to see dramatic changes.

“One of the first art assignments I was given was to draw how do you see yourself, how do you think others see you and what you like to see,” said Melodie. “What I drew first wasn’t even a human person—one was a couch potato and the other was just a big blob. But in the third drawing, I drew myself as a professional photographer and as an artist. And you know what, I actually achieved my goals.”


Melodie Portrait

There are many different approaches to treating mental disorders that provide those diagnosed with the necessary strength they need to achieve recovery. Individuals evaluating treatment can choose the process that works best for them. Different mental health treatments include, but are not limited to:

-Support Groups
-Art Therapy
-Music Therapy
-Peer Support

For Melodie, art therapy helped treat her depression in ways she never imagined. “The art therapy program was a game changer for me because it let the walls come down,” she said with a grin. “Not being in a clinical situation one-on-one was extremely helpful. Instead, you focus on expressing yourself through the art.” Today, Melodie continues to work to improve her mental health and now commissions her art and photography all over Northeast Ohio.

Stand Against Mental Health Stigma

The stigma surrounding mental health disorders often prevents people from seeking the help they need. This is an unacceptable burden to carry for those already in pain. While the societal stigma has reduced in recent years, there is still more work to be done. You can help advocate for individuals like Melodie fighting against the stigma of mental illness by engaging in public policy and donating to United Way of Greater Cleveland. United, we can build a kinder, healthier Cleveland for everyone.

Do you or a loved one need help accessing mental health resources? Call 2-1-1 to speak with a mental health professional trained in helping individuals find the care they need.

Local programs determined to decrease infant mortality rates

By Ben Miladin, Director of Health, Community Impact, United Way of Greater Cleveland

Ben MiladinInfant mortality, defined as the death of a baby before reaching his or her first birthday, occurs at shockingly high rates in our country and in Cuyahoga County – especially in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty and racial segregation. For example, while infant mortality rates fell across the state of Ohio in 2014, rates increased for African-Americans, according to findings from the Ohio Department of Health. Also, rates are generally higher in Cuyahoga County than in counties with less concentrated poverty. Rates in the city of Cleveland are higher still at around 13 deaths per 1000 live births. These early deaths could happen for any one of a number of reasons, including accidents, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), premature birth, or other factors. Continue reading “Local programs determined to decrease infant mortality rates”

Staff Profile: Matt Fedak brings an artist’s eye to Community Impact analytics

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: While we focus on our work in the community and rarely shine a spotlight on ourselves, this series is designed to put faces and names to the great and challenging work United Way does every day.

Matt FedakWhile only at United Way of Greater Cleveland six short months, Matt Fedak works behind the scenes to compile and analyze data, create graphs and improve program measurement systems.

Bringing with him experience from Cuyahoga County’s child support and senior and adult services, he is working to find ways to optimally measure a social service program’s success, from social return on investment to quality of life metrics.

Using United Way data, Fedak determines the success of programs including the CMSD community wraparound strategy and analyzes the demographics of clients served. Fedak also combines census and survey information to determine which parts of the community have unmet basic needs.

But some of what determines a program’s success is immeasurable, Fedak said.

For example, someone who is chronically homeless or suffers from substance abuse may utilize emergency medical or shelter resources — which can be quantified in the amount of money their care costs agencies and providers. But it’s harder to place a monetary value on having a home or remaining sober.

“I’m hesitant to pin down monetary returns on everything because it’s hard to put a value on some things,” Fedak said. “What’s the value of sobriety, what’s the value of a life where you’re suffering from fewer PTSD symptoms? What would you pay to be sober, to not have an addiction?”

Measuring the value of impact

“There’s something qualitatively valuable inside the human social work experience and I like to leave room for that,” he said. “There’s certainly a place for outcomes more focused on [measurements] that embody the quality of life issue; and I’ve done a lot of research about quality of life, and it’s very difficult to pin something down into metrics.”

Working with Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services, Fedak tried to use World Health Organization’s (WHO) quality of life measurement to quantify the success of several programs. WHO’s quality of life model was hard to roll over, Fedak said, because it was designed to be applied to developing countries, but still gave him a place to start his research. The goal was to measure the intrinsic value of programs that allow seniors to stay in their own homes rather than live in an assisted living facility.

“I was able to pick up some of those links from WHO,” he said. “Certainly it was a little bit more of a stretch — going from an isolated village with just a medicine man or woman to a lifeline button to make sure the ambulance came when you needed it — but I was able to at least pull some sort of underlying access to medical importance.”

Ben Miladin, director of health at United Way of Greater Cleveland, worked with Fedak at Senior and Adult Services. Seeing the open analyst position at United Way, he suggested Fedak apply.

“I had a great experience working with him and I thought he might be looking for a new, exciting opportunity and he seemed like a good fit that could really benefit our department,” Miladin said. “Matt is a wonderful coworker who is extremely thoughtful, efficient and creative. He’s always been willing to go the extra mile.”

Admiring Fedak’s technical skills, Miladin said Fedak works to make Community Impact’s data presentable to board members and community partners.

At United Way, Fedak is working to develop a system to encompass the broad spectrum of human services impact. Breaking into three parts, he wants to measure the quantifiable, raw basic needs met, the fundamental economic benefit and — to an extent — the qualitative piece of services.


While Fedak is researching how to optimize social services measurement, he is also interested in internal optimization, including the relationship between Community Impact, Resource Development and the Marketing department.

“I like knowing how the whole organization functions,” he said. “There’s a lot of overlap between community impact and marketing and resource development — which are really kind of the three core areas. There’s a financial side, which is doing our budget and I’m somewhat interested in that. But between fundraising, fund distribution and marketing, that’s really the triangle of activity.”

“I’m interested in understanding how those teams interact and how we can align those teams to make United Way better at collecting money, dispersing money and communicating all those successes to the larger community,” he said.

Art and analytics

Bringing an artist’s eye to analytics, Fedak studied studio art as an undergrad after transitioning out of engineering.

He was drawn to art for its immediacy and ability to make ideas tangible, which are some of the reasons he said he enjoys working in analytics. Not making abstract art, but creating graphs that give an immediate picture of a community’s needs.

“It hasn’t been so much ‘this is what I’ve always loved to do,’” he said. “It’s more about what’s a position that fits what I like to do where I can analyze things with numbers but also with pictures. That’s the art piece I try to bring to it — taking all the analysis, what the program is trying to do and has done and get that out to the people.”

Outside of visual art, Fedak studied philosophy, which influenced his art and career path. Wanting to use his time as more than a monetary investment, he worked in government agencies and United Way to make a difference in the community.

“In America, it’s easy to slip into that ‘time is money’ mentality,” he said. “But I disagree with that, I think time is infinitely more valuable. I look at how many hours a week I’m at a job … and what you do during that time? Are you going to be making money for yourself or are you going to do something where you can say I bettered my community. It’s nice that it’s not just about the money, there really is something bigger and better happening here.”

A single focus: How education, income and health work together


Dan HinmanUnited Way focuses our work on Education, Income and Health. But what exactly do these areas encompass, how are they defined and how do they work together? I work in the Income area, so I see everything through that lens; it’s a starting point to show how Education, Income and Health are really a single focus helping everyone achieve their dreams — for today and tomorrow.

In the income area we help people and families gain employment to sustain themselves by bringing more dollars into the household. We also work on the other side with expenses. Managing money coming in (employment and benefits) and money going out (housing, food, basic needs and savings) is really the overarching view of what income volunteers and staff work on. Continue reading “A single focus: How education, income and health work together”

The #Unselfie

Unselfie BabyIt’s the hashtag used on social networks to share random acts of kindness and selfless contributions. #Unselfie is also the motivation for #GivingTuesday. Oh, you haven’t heard? Just as Black Friday is the kickoff for holiday shopping, #GivingTuesday launches the season of giving. It was started in 2012 and for the second year in a row, United Way of Greater Cleveland will join with thousands of other communities around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. Continue reading “The #Unselfie”

2-1-1 service is line of defense for veterans in need

Tim GrealisMilitary veterans seeking help from United Way 2-1-1 do not see it, but a special flag literally oversees their conversation. Tim Grealis, United Way of Greater Cleveland Veteran’s Line coordinator, works under a framed U.S. flag that honors his Uncle Pete’s Navy service.

United Way 2-1-1 connects people to social, health and government services via phone and website. Grealis, an Air Force veteran, specializes in aiding fellow vets and active military personnel who call the 2-1-1 Help 2 Veterans service. This dedicated service for veterans debuted on Veterans Day 2013 and in its first year served more than 10,500 veterans. Continue reading “2-1-1 service is line of defense for veterans in need”

Celebrating Community Health Centers: Local Care to Keep our Neighbors Healthy  

May_Sarah_125pxCuyahoga County is fortunate to have a robust network of community health centers (CHC) providing routine primary care as well as dental and behavioral health care, immunizations, health education and screenings. This past week, we celebrated National Health Center Week recognizing our nation’s community health centers. Continue reading “Celebrating Community Health Centers: Local Care to Keep our Neighbors Healthy  “

It’s Time to Think Big

Kara PorterOver the past year United Way of Greater Cleveland has been listening to the community.  The more we have heard, the more we recognize that small changes are no longer enough to help individuals and families in Greater Cleveland. It’s time to think big.

Big change is what United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Community Impact Agenda is all about.  The volunteers on our Community Impact teams underwent an intense process of gathering information and feedback from stakeholders ranging from the community we serve to agencies to experts from the field.  What we learned is that no matter who you are in our community, you probably want the same thing – a healthy community where every kid graduates from high school and everyone can achieve financial stability. Our priorities and strategies in education, income and health will get us closer to the community we all want. Continue reading “It’s Time to Think Big”