NAMI offers mental health support services in Summit County
With a very active, tight-knit community, Summit County might be viewed as a paragon of health. Yet, one of the county’s biggest wellness issues is rarely vocalized: the need for more access to mental health services.
The county does have Mind Springs Health, which offers counseling, therapy and substance abuse treatment at a sliding fee scale for those without insurance. The Summit Community Care Clinic also offers counseling services for the uninsured.
Despite this, Summit County residents expressed a need for more of a focus on mental health and substance abuse, with 58 percent of residents saying it should be a top priority improvement in a 2012 Health Needs Assessment conducted by Corona Insights.
“Access to care, as many providers as we have, it’s difficult still unless you’re on Medicaid in this pocket of the world,” Summit County resident Betty Sarber said. “In mental-health care, a lot less people take insurance for their services than you would think. … Not only is there a stigma to accessing care, but someone could say it’s $100 an hour.”
Sarber is working with another local woman, Sheila Brockmeier, to start a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) branch in Summit County, to help create a support system for mountain residents struggling with mental-health issues and their families. Both have experience working with family members who have fought mental health issues, and Brockmeier served for five years with NAMI in Arapahoe County before moving up to the High Country.
“There is healing and hope for recovery. That’s what attracted me to NAMI,” Sarber said. “I don’t hear that message enough. For years I heard, ‘Just accept it, it’s gonna be this way.’”
After Brockmeier moved to Summit, she heard Summit Medical Center would host a NAMI Basics class to help parents work through behavioral difficulties with adolescents and children.
“Seeing as a teacher, how much personal growth people had in learning and sharing and becoming advocates, I wanted it to be up here,” she said. “I wanted people to benefit from that experience.”
NAMI High Country Colorado won’t necessarily offer counseling or professional care, but it is designed to bring education, advocacy and create a community to help locals better support each other.
The board of eight first met in November 2015 and is creating plans for a family-to-family course this fall. The free, 12-week course is designed specifically for family and friends of individuals with serious mental illness, including communication techniques to de-escalate a situation, information on a number of mental disorders and self-care advice.
“I love teaching this class, and it’s a privilege,” Brockmeier said. “You see people coming in, feeling uncomfortable or guarded. By the end of the 12 weeks, they are able to find some humor in their situation. They feel empowered.”
NAMI High Country hopes to offer the class both in Summit County and Leadville and, ultimately, to offer services in areas close to Summit, including Fairplay, Kremmling and Vail. Just in the past two years, Mind Springs and the Community Care Clinic have expanded their mental health services, and the dialogue between schools and health providers has also strengthened.
“We see ourselves as a part of the synergy,” Brockmeier said. “We’re here to support and encourage other people.”
The local NAMI branch currently offers a family support group the third Tuesday of every month at Dillon Community Church.
“It’s about developing a community of people, and feeling you’re not alone,” Sarber said.
In Summit County, families and individuals are not only faced with the high cost of living and limited opportunities for work advancement, but it is also easy to become isolated in a relatively transient community.
“People come up here and don’t realize how difficult it’s going to be to make money, enough to have a quality of life, and they don’t have extended family to support them, so there’s that isolation,” Brockmeier said.
In many cases, she added, the need to cope can result in substance abuse.
“You don’t know how you’re going to pay next month’s rent, and you’re really anxious — It can compound it a lot,” Sarber added.
The group also hopes to educate locals about existing mental health facilities, and reduce the stigma of seeking help. In the Health Needs Assessment, when asked if Summit has adequate mental health services, 30 percent responded “yes,” 10 percent responded “no” and the majority — 61 percent — responded “don’t know.”
Ultimately, they hope that if a person reaches out for help with mental illness rather than feeling embarrassed or helpless, both women hope the community will reach out and offer support.
“We see possibility for the future,” Sarber said. “I think the stigma around accessing treatment might also be affected.”
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