Cynthia Persily, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dr. Persily is the CEO of Highland Hospital in Charleston, WV
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a Mental Health Summit convened by the VA Medical Center in Huntington, WV. The Summit was attended by leaders in behavioral health in the region served by the Huntington VA, and included hospital leaders, community mental health leaders, and leaders in the VA system from southern WV, Ohio, and Kentucky. The purpose of the Mental Health Summit was to bring together key leaders in the community with the goal of enhancing access to mental health services while addressing the mental healthcare needs of citizens (including Veterans and their families) residing in the tri-state area. The Summit was a wonderful way for us all to share the services that we provide, and how we can interface better within our community to meet the need for mental healthcare.
One of the most interesting parts of the Summit to me was the time that we spent talking about what we could do together as a group to enhance mental healthcare, and we landed on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, the topic of the continued stigma related to seeking mental healthcare. Too many times we hear that those in real need did not receive care until a crisis or a disaster occurred, because of the stigma attached to seeking care for mental illness. One of the participants used this scenario to make his point—we don’t have any problem going to a health care provider’s office for a physical problem, putting on a paper gown, and answering questions about the most intimate parts of our physical being.
However, many of us still bristle at the thought of having a question asked of us about anxiety, depression, how much alcohol we drink each week, or if we use drugs for purposes they are not intended. Many families hide the fact that their family member needs help, or individuals won’t seek care because they are “not crazy”, “not going to the nuthouse”, or that kind of care is for “other people”. In the meantime, a downward spiral of mental health can be occurring until a heartbreaking situation occurs—overdose, suicide, violence, the loss of family—the things that we just don’t want to think about until we are forced to think about them.
One of the agreements that we came to at the Summit yesterday is that we will continue to meet as a group, and that we will continue to work together to develop and implement strategies to reduce the stigma associated with mental health care. How we will do that remains to be seen, but from my experience yesterday, I see an impassioned group of providers who can and will make a difference in reducing the stigma associated with mental healthcare in our region and assuring that everyone who needs mental healthcare receives it.