Forum: Dire need for mental health help

There’s nowhere for some people with mental health needs to go for help, there’s a shortage of resources and there’s a problem with stigma even within the health care community, according to comments voiced at a recent forum on mental health.

In Delta, a 26-year-old homeless man with a psychotic disorder who is also a meth addict with diabetes is an example of the first issue. Though mental health providers have tried to help him, there’s really not a good place for him to be, officials with The Center for Mental Health in Delta told officials with the state Office of Behavioral Health last week.

This recent incident illustrates one of the problems with the mental health system in Colorado voiced by the crowd who participated last week — a problem that makes it nearly impossible to find a place for anyone with mental health needs coexisting with physical issues to receive treatment.

While this patient could be placed on a 72-hour hold at Delta County Memorial Hospital, after that there’s really nowhere in the area to place this person for ongoing treatment, said Robin Slater, clinical director of acute services at The Center for Mental Health. Patients with what officials refer to as “comorbidity,” or the simultaneous presence of more than one medical or mental health need, are one of the groups who need help the most but have nowhere to go, they said.

A handful of participants said they had been consumers of the mental health care system in western Colorado and cited “lived experience,” but most attendees worked for mental-health providers, schools or other community agencies. The Office of Behavorial Health is responsible for overseeing the public behavioral health system as well as policy development, providing services, monitoring and evaluating services.

One attendee told the group that making a difference is about getting to the root of mental illness, which starts with prevention at a young age for people in her position.

The 68-year-old woman said her issues began with a traumatic event at age 3, and that the investment in her mental health has been long and costly.

“You have spent so much money on me, I’m made of gold!” she told the crowd.

Attendees cited a need for more awareness and education of the services available in the area, including peer services groups where those who have received treatment for various issues are trained to help others who need help, a valuable resource in an area with limited access to inpatient services,

These peer services “can connect in a way that I as a therapist may not be able to,” Michelle Hoy, Mind Springs Health executive vice president, told the group. Mind Springs, the largest mental health care provider on the Western Slope, had only three employees in peer services as recently as four years ago, Hoy said, but now has approximately 60 employees in that position to meet demands.

“Frankly, my therapist doesn’t have enough hours in her day to support what I need alone,” said Emma, a patient who said the stigma of mental health is also a major issue locally. She recounted an incident recently where she went to a hospital emergency room to receive treatment for broken toes.

“The triage nurse asked me if all of my personalities felt the pain,” she said, noting it was clear that the nurse had seen a mental health diagnosis on her chart and felt the need to comment on it, though she was there for a foot injury. “It was entirely based on stigma.”

Emma cautioned officials to be careful with creating new programs without keeping individuals in mind.

“All of these programs are great, but everyone’s an individual,” she said. “You can’t make 47,000 programs to meet the needs of 47,000 people. I think that’s what they’re forgetting.”

She said she was glad to participate, though the consumers of the mental-health system were in the minority at the forum.

“Ultimately I think we were heard, even if it’s just a seed planted,” she said.

Other challenges mentioned at the forum included negotiating complicated funding streams referred to as a “kaleidoscope wheel of payers” by one attendee.

Mental health community leaders acknowledged they’ve had to get “creative” about using funding for individuals who don’t exactly fit the definition of any single program. Hoy said sometimes it’s about working as a community to decide which organization will absorb the costs of treating a patient when there “may not be a perfect bed,” she said.

State Rep. Dan Thurlow attended the two-hour meeting and told the crowd he thought a better examination of how the various mental health systems work together needs to happen. The Grand Junction Republican said he believes health care overall is not being shortchanged in the state budget process, and he questioned whether new programs or buildings are necessary.


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