Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Council seeks volunteers for mental health crisis group


A local council is trying to find people who can help with a major lack in the Havre community — people helping people to deal with a crisis in mental health.

"We'd like to get the word out to the community," said Pam Veis, a case manager at the Center for Mental Health in Havre.

Veis and Marilyn Williamson, a social worker at Northern Montana Hospital, said the mental health local advisory council identified creating a support group in the area as a major goal to advance mental health services in the area.

Williamson said the goal is to find people, primarily consumers of mental health services, who would like to participate in a peer support group.

The council was awarded a $20,000 grant through the state Mental Health Settlement Trust Fund to create the peer support group.

Veis said the lack of a telephone support group available for people undergoing a crisis is a major problem in the area.

The program would work like a phone tree, with people needing support able to call members of the support group to talk about their problems.

Veis said the goal is to find 20 people to form the peer crisis support group.

People interested in joining the support group, or in finding out more about it, can call her at the Center for Mental Health at 265-9639.

The advisory council also is identifying different training programs to teach the members of the support group how to help.

Williamson said that, by the time the group is identified, the council will have started selecting which training programs to use.

The council already has started working with local law enforcement and emergency responders. The Havre fire and police departments and the Hill County Sheriff's Office all have representatives who have been trained and certified in dealing with mental health issues.

Veis said a related goal is to help reduce — and eventually eliminate — the stigma attached to seeking help for a mental health problem. She said the council hopes that the work done with the group of volunteers will filter out into the community, showing that mental illness is a health problem that can be treated.

Williamson agreed.

"It's important to try to address the stigma … trying to normalize it and show that this is an illness, just like any kind of physical illness, and that there's treatment for it," she said.

Veis said the statistics show the seriousness of the problem of mental illness in the nation, and the need to improve services.

Nationally, one in 17 people live with a serious mental illness. Each year, one in four experiences some kind of mental health disorder, and the cost of treating those disorders is staggering. Veis said more than $100 billion a year is spent in treating mental health disorders.

And the treatment is available. Veis said that of people undergoing treatment for mental health problems, 73 percent to 90 percent see a decrease in symptoms, and an improvement in the quality of life.

The sooner that help is provided, the better — including reducing the cost and stigma of law enforcement and emergency services officials having to respond to a crisis. It also helps by treating illnesses when they become more severe. Veis added that the cost of housing a patient in the state hospital in Warm Springs is more than $100,000 a year.

That is in addition to improving the lives of the people who need treatment.

"The more support we can provide in our community, the better off everyone is," Veis said.


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