Community awareness can help mental health struggles
From the Jackson Hole News & Guide Column Sound Mind
It never ceases to amaze me what an amazing and complicated thing a community is — always changing and interconnected. When there are issues, solutions rarely come down to one intervention or agency. Maybe it is because we are in the middle of various needs assessments or dealing with the next COVID-19 round, but as the various human service groups collaborate to address needs, gaps and trends, how systems impact each other becomes more apparent and more and more important.
The needs assessments that have begun to come out for Teton County say that lack of housing, mental health and substance use are the top concerns regarding the mental well-being of our community. Mental health, or wellness, is more than just the absence of a disorder, but more about living a full and productive life. It is the ability to bounce or being able to adapt to life stressors and the ability to form connections to others.
None of us are surprised at this point to hear that housing issues and COVID are causing a great deal of stress on many in our community. It becomes obvious that the solutions will take more than one intervention, or organization and a community wide response; maybe not to entirely solve the issue, but to help the entire community be resilient.
The same approach is needed when looking at mental health. Community issues strain the entire system, reducing the efficacy of interventions and social service organization efforts. The response needs to be communitywide to make an impact.
Mental health issues affect all of us. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, before the pandemic 1 in 4 individuals were dealing with a mental illness of some sort. Those numbers have increased, with more than half the population reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression. Roughly half never seek services due to the stigma.
The consequences of not seeking assistance prior to reaching a crisis level are felt by not only the individual and families involved, but entire communities. Added stress in the environment — such as a global pandemic — can exacerbate the issue, and the fallout is felt by employers, law enforcement, hospitals, schools, putting more stress on social service systems. The ultimate consequence, and tragedy, is the loss of life. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States (Wyoming tends to rank in the top five with per capita numbers) for adults and the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34 (NAMI).
While there are many resources and agencies that deal with specific issues such as youth crisis, substance use, domestic violence or mental health, it also becomes the responsibility of each of us as community members. When people are struggling they often turn to those closest to them first. Many times it is family, someone at school or church or friends who will initially respond and then possibly become an ongoing support system. Thus, it is important to feel comfortable talking openly about mental health. In addition to raising awareness of mental illness issues, it is also important to educate the community, empowering individuals to seek the support they need.
One way to become educated is to take a Mental Health First Aid course. Mental Health First Aid involves an eight-hour course that teaches community members basic mental health first aid. Classes are offered throughout the year, can be broken up through a lunchtime learning format and can be scheduled for groups as well.
The program uses the mnemonic of ALGEE, giving community members the knowledge, skills, and confidence to recognize and respond to mental health crises. The more educated and aware we are as a community, the more impact we will have on early intervention, suicide prevention and stigma reduction.
A Assess for risk of suicide or harm
Threats of suicide
Preoccupation with death, dying or suicide
Increased substance (alcohol/drug) use
Perception of being a burden to others
Hopelessness, no sense of purpose or meaning
Isolation from friends/family
Risk taking behavior
L Listen nonjudgmentally
G Give reassurance and information (resources)
E Encourage appropriate professional help
E Encourage self-help and other strategies
Reaching out to even just one person can make a difference. That can be done by calling and reconnecting with someone or reaching out for a walk or just a chat. Ask questions and listen to answers. This can help if you are the one feeling isolated or if you notice someone around you who may be struggling. Take notice of the people around you. Get to know them and what is going on in their lives; share stories. This may assist them and at the same time help you keep connected.
If you notice some patterns or are worried about yourself or someone else, reach out for help. It is easy with everything going on to feel isolated and withdrawn. One of the most amazing qualities of this community is how open, helpful and accepting we can all be when someone is struggling.
If you are concerned, contact a mental health professional, or call the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center crisis line at 733-2046; the national suicide line, 800-273-TALK; or 911. You can also all the St. John’s Health Resource line, 307-203-7880, for assistance in finding a local therapist. Go to MyStrength.com and use access code “jhcommunity” for a free and confidential self-help mobile resource.