Provide access to mental health counselors in all of Iowa’s schools so that kids who need help get it, and avoid long-term problems in adulthood. This is the message junior Sabrina Fullhart of Holy Trinity Catholic Jr./Sr. High School in Fort Madison delivered to members of the Iowa Legislature earlier this year, along with peers from the region. Legislators didn’t act on the proposal because of budget constraints. They did, however, approve a bill that allows for the equalization of county property tax levies for mental health and intellectual/developmental disability services in 14 regions. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s just one step.
This is a perfect time to examine the next steps because May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Sabrina notes that one in five U.S. adults will experience a mental health condition in his or her lifetime. If kids could get help sooner, they might not struggle as adults, Sabrina suggests.
Her point is well taken. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) statistics also show that one in five youths aged 13-18 (21.4 percent of the population) experience a severe mental health disorder at some point during their life. NAMI also reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., but the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10-24, and second leading cause for people aged 15-24. An estimated 18 to 22 veterans die by suicide every day. Folks, we have a problem, and it requires a focused approach to alleviate the crisis of mental illness and its impact on all of us.
A new study released last month, the Quad Cities Area Behavioral Health and IDD Project, provides advice to lay the groundwork for a multifaceted solution to our mental health crisis. The Community Health Needs Assessment addressed mental health in six areas: self-reported mental health status, presence of depressive disorders, symptoms of chronic depression, suicide mortality, children’s mental health and children receiving medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
While the study addresses the Quad Cities region, the advice has implications for the 22 counties of the Davenport Diocese, says Chris McCormick Pries, ARNP, the clinical director of Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport, who was interviewed for the study. She is also a parish nurse and member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf.
Catholics who live in the smaller, rural counties in our diocese often must travel to larger counties — such as Scott, Johnson and Polk — to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. Yet, Scott County is designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for mental health professionals by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
One of the troubling facts uncovered in the study was a lack of cooperation and collaboration among the major players in the mental health care field. Territorialism weakens the effort to ensure that people’s needs are met. Responding to the need for mental health services has to start with three key recommendations from the study, McCormick Pries says:
• Development of a consortium of the major players, funders and recipients of mental health care. Define services that need to be developed and how to develop them collaboratively.
• Change the way mental health services are delivered. For example, if someone is having a mental health crisis and needs to be seen immediately, that person ought to be able to do so. That’s called open access. Establish “just in time appointment scheduling” so that established patients can be seen sooner than later. Stop routinely scheduling patients who are stable.
• The sickest patients should be seen by the most educated providers. The severity of the illness would determine whether a patient sees a psychiatrist or a therapist. As McCormick Pries points out: “You don’t see a heart surgeon for an annual physical.” Develop teams of physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners to respond to patients’ needs.
Here’s what we can do to help improve the state of mental health and access to it for all:
• Reduce the stigma. Be informed about the challenges in mental health care. Visit the NAMI website at http://tinyurl.com/n467mt4. Another great resource: National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD). Check out NCPD mental health resources online at http://tinyurl.com/kmvgzso.
• Spread the word that mental health treatment works.
• Hold elected officials and health care providers accountable for offering appropriate care.
•Consider volunteering with a support group or educational group. Organizations such as NAMI, Vera French, school boards and other groups are always looking for members.
Listen to our youths when they offer input to a crisis they’re witnessing among their friends and family members. As Sabrina says, “In 20 years, people my age will be in charge, by then it’s almost too late.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor