In the month since the horrific and unthinkable shootings in Newtown, Conn., cut short the lives of innocent school children and officials, opinions abound on the causes and how we can prevent such a travesty from ever happening again. Understandably, mental health and the need for greater access to quality care have been a part of many conversations.
I want to reassure everyone in our community that much is already being done, nationally, state-wide and here at home to improve mental health services. Healthcare reform in particular has taken a giant step in the recognition that resources for mental health are just as important as physical health. We are, in fact, whole people and mental and physical conditions affect one another.
For instance, we know that healthcare costs will be reduced if we respect and treat depression and other conditions that may inhibit healing. We know that prevention needs as much focus as treatment to reduce the toll taken on families and communities when conditions spin out of control. Integration of therapists into primary care offices is an active initiative in the country and in our community.
In Colorado Springs, there are strong partnerships among mental health providers, the state organizations, non-profit groups, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, local hospitals and emergency departments, law enforcement, universities and our regional leaders of healthcare. The leadership of Colorado Health Partners took bold action holding a community-wide summit in October with attendance from many of the above and consumers. Five major work groups are actively looking at these topics: care for the uninsured; workforce development; emergency department diversion; navigating systems; and data management to enhance assessment of the issues. Recommendations will be forth-coming in the spring as the community works together on these teams.
At AspenPointe, we are actively engaged with our community already to partner for better mental health and well-being:
- Call Center availability seven days a week to navigate services and calls for help (719-572-6100)
- Full continuum of mental health services from inpatient to outpatient to aid in treatment with physician oversight
- Social innovation programs to help put people back to work or begin their education
- Integration with physical health centers and physician offices to support behavioral and mental health needs that may only surface in the physician’s office
- Support to schools to bring therapy to children and support educational staff
- In-home services for troubled families
- Prevention programs available and support when school is on break—help for parents
- Services for our military population—active duty and veterans and their families
- Programs to help people with substance abuse
These and other services are available from our clinicians who are recognized for their excellence in state of the art techniques such as behavior therapies, play therapy, assessment and navigation of services across the community. We serve over 30,000 people annually and are working to serve even more.
AspenPointe is only one organization in the community with an array of services, and many others are working to be as available for services as possible. Resources and funding through the new health reform changes will eventually help. What is important, in the wake of the tragedy and high community anxiety, is to know where to go for help. As we have re-evaluated all our processes in the wake of the tragedy, our team and partners recommends these tips:
- Take control of your anxiety by doing something active- help the single parent on the street; reaffirm our own parenting by monitoring video games and exposure to violence for our kids; be open about talking about mental health to reduce the stigma and improve the chance people will seek help
- Check safety around your own home – proper storage and locking of guns and other weapons; physical security, like alarms systems and door locks
- Seek Mental Health First Aid programs in our area to educate on how to recognize and assist with mental health needs – a list of available courses are on the AspenPointe website – www.aspenpointe.org
- Write down the nearest Call Center number in case of need
- Support your local schools and volunteer on committees related to safety
It is helpful to be aware that most people with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a crime than be the perpetrator of one. Violence is not a subset of mental illness, but a very disordered mind may use violence to satisfy delusions or act out needs. The best prevention is attention to wellness, prevention and early intervention, elevating mental health needs on par with physical needs, and raising your own awareness of what struggling individuals and families may need.
Reach out to one of our many organizations in Colorado Springs for questions and advice. We are all in this together and are actively working to improve mental health for our community.