How do you make sure that effective mental health care reaches those who need it most before they become a threat to themselves or others?

I have had the privilege of screening my film Coming Up For Air at community mental health events, suicide prevention conferences and crisis intervention training meetings.

I always ask audiences of dedicated professionals and families working hard as caregivers to those in need to meet one of our nation’s most pressing health care challenges the same question:

How do you make sure that effective mental health care reaches those who need it most before they become a threat to themselves or others?

Since there is no way to prevent all potential triggers — drug addiction, being fired, divorce, flunking out of school, a bitter battle in the workplace, binge drinking, bullying — every community needs timely access to quality treatment.

When those who need help the most argue that mental health care “doesn’t work,” there is often an important subtext: cost of care is beyond their means. To make matters worse, even if they do have coverage, parents all too often discover that finding an available mental health bed for a young person can be next to impossible. For far too long, cost and insurance hurdles have prevented millions from getting the care they desperately need.

The consensus among the hundreds of experts and family members I have spoken to at over dozens of events is that all barriers to effective mental health care need to be removed. In other words, no deductibles, no copays, no proof of insurance, no waiting for care that saves lives. Accessing prompt mental health care should be no more difficult than buying aspirin.

To get an idea of what this approach done right looks like, have a look at Summit Pointe, the Battle Creek-based behavioral health group that now offers 24-hour psychiatric urgent care seven days a week:

First Step Psychiatric Urgent Care Center

This program is a model that other communities would be wise to emulate. There is no need to phone for an appointment. You do not need to fill out complicated intake forms on your computer. When you arrive at the front door, someone is there to begin the process of providing mental health or substance abuse service — immediately.

I met the Summit Pointe team during a screening of my film last fall thanks to their suicide prevention specialist Scott Teichmer. He gave an eloquent talk on his own attempt to harm himself years ago and how his mother, a member of the audience that night, provided the care necessary to prevent tragedy. Scott’s point was that, once a caregiver or professional can talk the person at risk past a momentary crisis, it’s possible to help them know there is hope for the future. He has dedicated his working life to this proposition.

Teichmer’s powerful words speak to the need for change in mental health care nationwide. Everyone, regardless of their economic circumstances, must be able to immediately access counseling, treatment and, if necessary, hospitalization with no waiting or bureaucratic barriers.

If Summit Pointe can make this happen in Battle Creek, it can certainly happen elsewhere. The cost of providing this service is a small fraction of what we all pay in terms of lives lost or damaged due to lack of care. Fortunately in Battle Creek — and a growing number of resourceful communities — this kind of access is now available to everyone. Please consider sharing this information with your own elected officials.

While you’re at it, I urge you to look over this invaluable guidance on What To Say and What Not to Say to Someone With a Mental Health Condition. It’s useful shorthand for anyone who is thinking about being an effective caregiver:

What to say and what not to say to someone with a mental health condition
If a friend or loved one is experiencing mental health challenges, you may be unsure of what to say when they confide in you.

Keep it with you — you may very well find yourself as a first responder to someone in a moment of need.

Roger Rapoport’s play Old Heart is on stage at Muskegon’s Overbrook Theater May 20 and 21. The third edition of his book Angle of Attack with Captain Shem Malmquist is out next month.

Angle of Attack — lexographic press
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