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Erie needs dialogue about depression, mental health
Erie Times-News - 6/9/2018
As a local behavioral health clinician and leader, I was very happy to see the Erie Times-News address depression among Erie residents in a recent editorial. It opens the door for a larger conversation about mental health needs in our community and resources our region offers.
On a national scale, a March publication of the World Health Organization notes that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. A June publication by CNN reports that deaths by accident, suicide and homicide are all on the rise for young people nationwide. It's crucial that as a country we start accepting depression and mental health overall as an important public health issue that impacts everyone in some way.
In that regard, I am proud to be part of the Safe Harbor Behavioral Health of UPMC Hamot team. As an organization, we are dedicated to helping people with mental health disorders recover and be fully integrated into our community. At Safe Harbor, we have built integrated relationships to bring behavioral health services to schools, primary and specialty care offices and community organizations in Erie County.
By providing care in these different settings, we have improved patient access and helped reduce stigma. Since Safe Harbor's affiliation with UPMC Hamot, the community collaboration has only grown and expanded with the emergency department, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, UPMC Hamot, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC and the Hamot Health Foundation.
Data confirms that providing care for depression and other mental health disorders is a real challenge. Yet, I have never felt more united as a community in the fight. Beyond the local UPMC network, Erie's community mental health and social service agencies have been making focused efforts to further collaborate. We have numerous family and advocacy groups, as well as peer networks for people to connect with. Our local law enforcement agencies and first responders have expanded education efforts about mental health, mental health first aid, and partnering with agencies that can help with referral needs.
Comparatively, Erie is lucky to have many organizations that are willing to work together, and that receive public funding to support their missions. To all of the community providers, family and peer support networks, first responders and caring individuals out there — a big thank-you for all that you do.
But of course, there is more to be done. About half of people with mental illness get treatment. As the recent Erie Times-News editorial noted, access to specialized care can be an issue. However, the majority of people with depression will not require inpatient care, and the majority of people who seek treatment will improve. Many mental health medications can already be prescribed in primary care settings so that most patients do not need access to a specialty hospital or psychiatrist's office.
A bigger barrier is perhaps within everyone's reach: stigma. Stigma sometimes prevents people from seeing their doctor, let alone a specialist, if they are scared or uncertain. Stigma prevents people from seeking therapy, which is highly effective, when they don't have the words or are anxious about telling another person what's going on. Stigma compounds depression when co-workers can't look past tardiness or disorganization to see what's really happening. Stigma amplifies depression when family members judge, isolate or can't cope themselves when it takes its toll on the family. Stigma weighs heavily on young people who are excluded at school or whose symptoms prevent them from healthy socialization.
Ultimately, depression, and many other mental illnesses, can have devastating impact. They can be fatal. But we know treatment works. The catch is, we have to talk about it. We — our community — not just people who work in the field or health care providers. Collectively we will be the ones to turn the tide if we get interested in preventing conditions that contribute to depression and other mental health disorders, foster education for early intervention, connect people to health care resources, and promote healthy relationships and lifestyle choices that enhance recovery. The great thing is that these are all actions that benefit everyone, so we all have a vested interest and will reap the rewards.
Mandy Fauble is executive director of Safe Harbor Behavioral Health of UPMC Hamot.