What determines how healthy we are? We like to think it’s health care, but health-related
behaviors and social circumstances are the biggest determiners of health, resilience and recovery.
Mental health, too, is not just individual struggle. A community that promotes emotional well-being is healthier and its citizens more resilient.
When talking about mental illness, it shouldn’t just be about whether treatment actually works. If it’s just about treatment — which is proven effective — then why does mortality, often via suicide, continue to rise? For many, the care they need is out of reach.
Additionally, recovery is much more than seeing a therapist or taking medication. It requires changing our habits and recalibrating how we interact with others. We need to be a community that provides the support people need to feel that recovery is possible.
Community mental health centers take a public health approach. This approach aims to build communities’ understanding of causes and treatments, enlist the public in risk reduction
(including personal behavior and social circumstances), and promote rapid access to treatment.
It is a complicated effort that addresses these basic questions:
What poses a mental health risk in our community? Race and discrimination, economic status,
trauma and education all impact health, including mental health. All of these impact access to insurance and, thus, to treatment.
A vicious cycle develops: persistent mental illness often leads to or furthers poverty, trauma and social isolation, which then worsen mental health even more. While mental illnesses respond well to treatment, those affected often remain socially disadvantaged and stigmatized; they remain or become poor and are marginalized in social and work settings. Addressing these inequities reduces mental illness risk, make treatments more effective and enhances recovery.
How do we inform and empower people dealing with mental health issues? Public education programs (such as Mental Health First Aid, perinatal visitation programs, preschool and school social-emotional development programs) promote mental health by mitigating risk. Social, recreational and vocational opportunities also promote social connectedness and a sense of purpose. They empower people to help themselves and others.
How can the community work together to improve mental health? Do our policies and plans support these efforts? This community has many resources for individual care. Many, however, are grant-funded, short-term and hard to scale, meaning their availability can be unpredictable. Additionally, many of the needed resources are in separate organizations that don’t always talk to one another, and none is able to provide everything a patient might need. We need to increase funding stability and collaboration, and make treatment easier to get for those that need it.
Do we protect the health and safety of those with a mental illness? The Florida Legislature started to envision a “coordinated system of care” several years ago, but never defined what services should be minimally available. The federal government has several excellent state pilot programs, but expanding them will require a lot of money that so far no party — private or public — has rushed to make available. Local communities increasingly have to fund services, regardless of their resources. As a result, only 40% of those who need treatment get it.
This region is a leader in efforts to reduce the criminalization of mentally ill individuals, but these efforts are funded in three-year cycles. We need to commit to making them permanent and expand them.
Do we support a competent mental health-care workforce? Florida lacks sufficient numbers of mental health professionals — when you need care, there might not be anyone to provide it. While we need to train more providers, those programs will lack students excited to enter the field if we cannot improve salaries, which requires that the organizations that hire them get paid adequately for their work as well. Effective treatment requires a skilled, compassionate, dedicated — and reasonably compensated — workforce.
Are we promoting research and evaluating mental health services? While research rapidly continues to identify effective treatments, we still do not have precise diagnostic tools. Further research is needed to improve diagnosis, further improve treatment and measure recovery.
Community mental health centers provide treatment, promote healthy behaviors and advocate in the community for those in need. Meridian is the local leader in public mental health — but we need community partners to create a true public health response.
On May 30, there is a Mental Health Symposium convened by Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe. Come, listen and then join the effort to create an effective response to the mental health needs of our community.
Maggie Labarta is president/CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare.
The Gainesville Sun, Gainesville.com
Original article posted at 2:00AM at https://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20190523/maggie-labarta-mental-health-requires-community-support