Mental Illness Awareness Week

Mental health awareness

Each year Mental Illness Awareness Week occurs during the first full week of October. Every year there is a recurring theme that spreads across the country. This year, the theme revolves around building a movement through the Stigma Free initiative.

“Being Stigma Free means learning about and educating others on mental illness, focusing on connecting with people to see each other as individuals and not a diagnosis, and most importantly, taking action on mental health issues and taking the Stigma Free pledge.”

The hashtag for the theme is #IAmStigmaFree

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in America. Mental health stigma affects each and every one of us as well as the people we love. Stopping Mental Health Stigma is an imperative first step which provides those who silently struggle with mental illness, the opportunity to reach out for help.

Did you know that the risk of suicide was 7.5 times higher among persons with MS than the general population? In a study of individuals with MS who experienced thoughts of suicide, one-third had not received any psychological help. If you have concerns regarding mental illness, or thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Depression is a treatable condition and needs to be discussed with the doctor.

For more information regarding Depression and MS, please visit the MSAA website at

National Alliance on Mental Illness:


Highlights from MSAA’s Annual Golf Tournament

On Monday, September 28th, MSAA hosted the annual Gary Wallace Memorial Golf Tournament at Little Mill Country Club in Marlton, NJ. The golf tournament is held in memory of Gary Wallace, MSAA’s former Vice President of Finance & Administration, who devoted himself to improving the lives of people living with MS.

It was a full day of fun and friendly competition, all in the name of fulfilling MSAA’s mission of improving lives today for the entire MS community.

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We would like to thank all of our supporters, sponsors, volunteers, and everyone who came out to the event.

Thank you!!


Season of Change

Leaf PicIt’s that time of year again when the leaves are changing from green to yellow to red. What a beautiful time it is before they fall from the trees and we have to rake them up in the yard. This is a great time of year to go for a drive on a scenic route to see the beautiful scenery. Remember to pack a camera or take a quick shot with your phone!

The change of the season gets me thinking about how we accept change in our lives. Just like the seasons change, our lives change. Changes in your life require faith, dedication, and perseverance. Did you know that the true test of intelligence is not how much we know, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do?

Some people know that they need to make changes in their lives. But often find themselves taking the path of least resistance and don’t make the changes even if it means remaining unsatisfied. People stay in relationships that aren’t good for them. They keep jobs that bring them no joy. There is nothing wrong with change, especially when it has the potential to bring happiness.

The world around us is constantly changing. By being open to change we open ourselves up to learn the lesson that this change has for us. When we take this approach to change, we will accept it as a powerful, positive force in our lives.


Managing the Hectic Schedule

“It’s how we spend our time here and now, that really matters. If you are fed up with the way you have come to interact with time, change it.” –Marcia Wieder

While many things in life may seem out of our immediate control, there is one constant that has the ability to change; time. While we can’t make more hours in a day, we can change our perception of time and how our days will look.

Start your day off right. While preparing for the day, take a moment to jot down a few notes on things that need to be accomplished. Personal calendars, phone reminders, or dry erase boards are a helpful way to organize tasks.

Take into consideration MS symptom management. When planning out the day, consider your MS symptoms. Are you more productive in the early mornings, or late afternoons? Does your MS disease-modifying treatment cause symptoms or side effects? If so, make sure to plan around your treatment dosage time.

Reprioritize. It’s OK not to check everything off of your to-do list in one day. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Take a moment during the day to look over your list and consider what not to do that day.

Time management is a personal journey. What works for someone might not work for everyone, but it is nice to hear how others plan their days. What tips or strategies do you use to manage your hectic schedule?


Finding Peace

Did you know that September 21st is known as the International Day of Peace, or World Peace Day? A day that encourages peace and the strength of positive ideas and movements, this internationally observed time is celebrated throughout countries across the world.

In a society that’s currently faced with some troubling and distressing times, it’s important to reflect on the idea of peace and what it means to you. It doesn’t have to look the same from person to person because everyone is unique in their own thoughts and feelings. It’s about carrying out behaviors and actions that can increase positivity and optimism and a sense of tranquility.

The things that can endorse and increase peace do not have to be grand gestures. It can be personal and private moments where you find strength from certain actions, or it can be doing good deeds for others and promoting positive thinking. The possibilities of peace can be endless because the gestures and concept behind it are endless.

You can find peace through meditation, songs, books, your relationships with others and yourself. You can choose to get involved in community activities or ask others to join events that help promote peaceful and positive thinking. No matter the task, the idea of peace can be translated in many different forms and its message remains everlasting.

What brings you peace?


Hi, Nice to meet you.

Hello Blog Community (in my best Good Morning Vietnam impersonation). My name is Roshawnda Washington but everyone calls me Ro and I’d like to take a few lines to introduce myself. I joined the MSAA team as an intern at the beginning of September and am so looking forward to working here. I’m currently working toward my MSW with the University of Southern California (Fight On!) after earning a bachelor’s degree in Biology. Why the switch you may ask…I was looking for something that would allow me to make a difference. About a year and a half ago I sat at work thinking that while I enjoy science and was working for a fantastic research institute I couldn’t see myself waking up in 10 years and still enjoying what I was doing. In typical Generation Y fashion I took to Google and typed in some of the words I was pretty sure I was looking for; people, help, professional, fulfilling, compassion, diverse and career. There were others like million dollars, international travel and fabulous but it took 6 seconds before I remembered that I’m not a reality TV star so my first few were probably good. Several things popped up and the one I almost immediately dismissed was Social Worker. “They’re the people who take children from homes and put them in other homes right”…Pass, that’s not for me and I continued on my search for my fabulous, million dollar (kidding) new path in life.

At work as I was speaking with some of our staff I expressed the new hunt for my future and someone mentioned, “you should look into social work”. I stopped and thought to myself, what are the odds. We began speaking about what Social Workers actually do, some of the areas where they are needed and specifically what the workers part was in our team at the hospital. I had previously had few occasions to interact with the Social Workers who partnered with our patient families and clinical teams. Getting to really speak with them I was able to learn that Social Workers are not the ‘baby snatchers’ or any of the negative stereotypes that many others and I had been associating with the vocation. Again I took to my trusty Google and in true predictive type mode it directed me to several programs offering an MSW and USC was at the top of the list.

Over the past year I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful professors and professionals as well as my fellow students to learn what being a Social Worker really is. I’ve been able to look at my parents’ history of being a foster family and the care that our worker put into each child she placed. In the VA workers who diligently and persistently advocate for veterans to make sure they are getting the services they need. In the awesome workers, who partner with families in hospitals to be the shoulder to lean on and the voice when they don’t know what to ask. I’ve learned that while many Social Workers do work with children and family services to make sure children are in caring and safe homes they also work in schools, therapist offices, businesses, corporations, hospitals, for counseling services and at non-profit organizations like here at MSAA (as well as a ton of places it would take a dozen blogs for me to list). Social Workers are professional, diverse, compassionate people who seek to help others fulfill needs and they do all this and more as a career (like how I used all my search words 😀 ). I will probably never make a million dollars, my international travel will be on vacations (unless I become that TV star) but I think that Social Workers are pretty fabulous and I’m beyond excited to get started on this path and see the difference I’m able to make.


MS and Senior Year Stress: Helping Your Child Leave High School for College

By: Jeri Burtchell

My son came into this world two months premature, had the wrinkled skin of a little old man, and his head fit snuggly in my tightly cupped palm. I just prayed he would live to come home, too scared for our future to think about “prepaid college plans” or anything.

Seventeen years later, my preemie who once weighed 3 pounds is officially a senior. We weathered many challenges along the way, between my MS and his complications from being born too soon. But we’ve made it to this point and I couldn’t be more proud — or terrified.

He has his sights set on college and I’m kicking myself for never starting a prepaid college fund. Besides money, there’s a lot of planning involved, it turns out.

Starting with the senior photo shoot it seems like the wheels have been in motion and I’m falling off the back end of the wagon trying to keep up. There is so much to do!

He enrolled in two Advanced Placement (AP) courses that would look great on his transcripts. We followed that up with a trip to the guidance office where I thought we’d have a single session and be all set.

I think the moment I began fearing a possible MS relapse was at the end of that initial–and completely overwhelming–meeting. She let us know we were playing catch-up at this point. Who knew that college planning begins in the womb?

That prepaid college fund? Probably would have been a good idea. After all, how much can I realistically expect to save between now and next fall? The counselor nixed my idea of spending every dime I get on Lotto tickets in hopes of affording tuition. She said that’s not the best plan.

No, the best plan involves lots of research and determination on my part evidently. My son is bogged down with AP homework so I’m scouring the internet for scholarship opportunities. Thanks to MS for the insomnia I suffer, I have plenty of free time between 1 and 5 AM to read websites and figure out if they are scams or legitimate awards worth applying for.

There really is a scholarship opportunity for left-handers, for example, as well as for seniors who opt to construct their prom attire completely from Duct Tape. Aside from the unusual ones, however, did you know your children can qualify for scholarships if their parent has MS? My son even can even apply for one related to his asthma.

So what can I share with you to help pave the way for your talented child to be able to go to college? Here is my list of things it would have been helpful to know prior to senior year. Hopefully this will relieve some of the relapse-provoking stress, and prepare you for the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

● Take Honors or AP courses as early and often as you can, striving for academic excellence. (My mantra his entire life was “If you ever expect to go to college you’re going to need a scholarship because I can’t pay for it,”–and we’re learning how right I was.)
● Go to College Night at the high school starting in Freshman year, and learn something each time you go. There are goals you can be achieving along the way, helping your roll out your plan.
● Make a short list of the colleges you’d like to attend and focus on finding out all of the requirements and deadlines for applying. You’ll want to keep track of:
○ Application deadline for the following fall. (I was shocked to see a lot of schools want my son’s submission by November 1 of this year!)
○ SAT, ACT, and GPA minimum requirements
○ In-state vs out-of-state tuitions and housing
● Your guidance counselor may be able to give you fee waiver passes to retake the SAT and/or ACT tests. The retakes do not cancel out previous test scores so don’t worry that you’ll do worse. Your best scores count!
● Search everywhere for scholarships to apply for. Even if it’s small, they can add up fast. Wells Fargo website has a database you can search for scholarships. You have to sign up and fill out a profile and they research the possibilities for you.

In all of your planning, parents, don’t forget about yourself. Your child, like mine, is probably a big help around the house and has been acting as a caregiver to some extent. You may not even realize how great a role they’ve been playing until your nest is empty, unless you have others still at home.

Be sure to create your own plan for how you will connect with your child while they are away, who will take over their caregiver or household responsibilities, and make the transition as smooth as possible.

This should be a time of joy and celebration (I keep reminding myself) so do all you can to prevent the stress that comes with it from sending you spiraling into a relapse. Keep cool, start early, stay focus, and have a plan.

And on the last day of school, toss your own hat in the air–you’ve earned it! Congrats!

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.


10 Things To Do Before Fall Ends!

Back-to-school time is here and fall isn’t far behind. Glorious fall!!! I can smell the leaves and cool crisp air, and don’t get me started on how obsessed I am with pumpkin-flavored everything. Summer will end soon and before you know it the holidays will be here.

Back-to-school excitement will soon end but don’t let autumn fly by. Take advantage of the crisp cool weather and beautiful foliage with this list of fun things to do:

1. Make s’mores on a cool night.
2. Take fall foliage pictures and frame one/or a family photo.
3. Play in the colorful leaves, even if you crunch them in your hands.
4. Make a new fall craft project; carve a pumpkin.
5. Bake pumpkin bread or muffins – told you I was obsessed!
6. Enjoy warm apple cider outside under a cozy blanket.
7. Go apple picking.
8. Start holiday shopping early, plan ahead this year.
9. Write someone a love letter and mail it – no email (It’s fun to open mail).
10. Do whatever makes you the happiest!!

Couple walking in leaves with baby

I hope that by sharing some of my favorite fall activities you will be inspired to make the most of my favorite season!!

What is your favorite thing to do in the fall?


All I Really Need to Know I Learned In…..

So this week marked the time for many students across the country to head back into the classroom to begin a new school year. School supplies being emptied on store shelves, heavier morning traffic caused by school zones and bus stops, and the sun rising a little differently in the mornings all represent this significant time of year. It makes me think of the book by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

The book highlights some very important and notable lessons we need throughout life that were actually taught to us in our earliest phase of education. It may not have seemed like it at the time, as we were having snack, playing with classmates and enjoying circle time, but values were being engrained in us that we would use for years to come. Remembering to share, to say you’re sorry if you hurt someone, and to be aware of the world around us were just some of the imperative teachings we learned amidst play time. It got me thinking though, what other times throughout life are we taught these and other significant lessons? The answer: every day.

It’s true. We learn important life lessons every day, for those younger and older, in school or not, there are constant teachings around us every day that continue to instill life’s lessons and morals in us. We hear about other people’s experiences and we look at them as examples, to model or not. We see good and bad and find our place in where we wish to be amidst the chaos. We strive to continue learning and to be vulnerable to new experiences and feelings. We try to remind ourselves of who we are and what we learned years ago and how it can still have meaning now.

People show interest in the world around them every day, even if it’s just by watching the news—again, to be aware of what’s out there and what’s bigger and different. So while many of life’s important lessons were learned as tots on those first days in the classroom, life itself continues to be the classroom; with continuous trainings and encouragement all around.

What lessons have you continued to learn about or have tried to teach others?


It is Never too Late to Make a Change

This time of year sets the stage for big changes in many people’s lives. Little kids prepare for the first day of school. College students embark on a new journey that will change the course of their future. And parents start to see their once little child becoming more independent and less reliant on their help.

As we age, it appears that everything changes and sometimes we accept those changes and sometimes we don’t. For many, change is a scary thing and is met with some resistance or animosity. But for some, change can be exciting and refreshing.

Which category do you fall? Do you find yourself resisting change, or do you fully embrace it?

It is never too late to make a change in your life. A change does not necessarily need to be an overhaul, perhaps something small that you have put off for some time. With the long holiday weekend, it provides an extra day to do something for yourself that may make a significant transformation for the better.

So give it a shot, allow yourself to move freely through the change. If you come across any resistance or hesitation, ask yourself why. Change does not have to be absolute. You have control over your life and if after making the change you find that it does not work for you, you have the power to make the switch.
What is something you have thought about changing?

MSAA Office’s will be closed Monday September 7th in observance of the Labor Day Holiday.