Jeffrey P. Siegel: Team effort needed to combat mental suffering
December 27, 2017
On Dec. 20, as the president and CEO of the Aspen Hope Center, I had the privilege and honor of attending the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners meeting at the county library's community room. For the 16,000 or so of you who missed it, it was very worthwhile, and you can still access it via Grassroots Television.
As you may or may not know, this meeting was the second and final reading of the proposal to rectify the gaps and shortfalls in the provision of mental health care services in our valley, with a focus on the streamlining of existing services, the addition of services and a change to some current services.
The catalyst for passing this measure is to ultimately provide improved mental health services, resources and access to these services. The approach, in short, is to markedly streamline the provision of mental health care, while also focusing on the funding of mental health care services. In the end, it is hoped our high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide will be reduced via more therapists, more psychiatrists and a lower cost of treatment.
The Hope Center, as an integral part of mental health care in our valley, plays one vital part of the totality of services provided, and that is crisis prevention, crisis intervention and stabilization. The specially trained clinicians at the Hope Center have carved out a meaningful niche in our valley. The significant number of attendees in support of the Hope Center at the BOCC meeting was an enormous testament to the value of attending to crises in our valley and the expertise the Hope Center brings to this "esoteric" aspect of mental health care known as crisis.
I know of no way to "value" crisis intervention, or more specifically, saving a person's life. I only know that some percentage of this valley's residents and visitors are suffering in a way that requires crisis intervention. The Hope Center chose not to participate in the county's new approach because, after several weeks of negotiations involving the Hope Center, including making many concessions, it became clear to us that we would risk being subsumed into a larger entity and, in doing so, lose our identity and the flexibility in our approach that is so vital to the high level of service we provide. Pitkin County's new approach to mental health care services, and the fact the Hope Center chose not to participate in it, could put the role the Hope Center plays at risk, but it was clearly articulated by the members of the BOCC they would like to find a way to continue to include the Hope Center in crisis intervention and to allow us to continue to work with our police, sheriff, fire and other responders in this valley.
The Hope Center receives over 700 calls annually from people in crisis. It participates with law enforcement in over 60 calls per year to 911. It has participated in roughly 50 percent of the crisis situations presented to Aspen Valley Hospital annually. It has done over 150 evaluations of students in 2017 alone (these are students thought to be at risk due to suicidal thoughts, or other serious mental health concerns). In addition, the Hope Center has placed 38 individuals in its Intensive Outpatient Stabilization Program in 2017, rather than sending them to a psychiatric facility, and all of those individuals are alive today and leading productive lives.
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Crisis intervention is not more or less important than the other services the new approach will address, including "resiliency training," screenings, counseling and other mental health services. However, crisis intervention is markedly different from every other aspect of mental health care in that the unique training is not taught in school and crisis involves dealing with a person who is planning, and perhaps attempting, to end his or her life.
The Hope Center and I are hopeful the county's new path will lead to a greater dialogue between all providers of health care and mental health care and, as I said at the meeting, it is time to build bridges between all of us and ultimately be victorious together in reducing anxiety, depression, mental suffering, and crises and target as a metric, a reduction in the number of suicides annually in our community.
Jeffrey P. Siegel is president and CEO of the Aspen Hope Center.