Mental health professionals and social workers want to get one message across to the Pettis County community: treatment is available, and there are options.
The number of suicides in Pettis County has been on a steady rise since 2010. Already this year, Pettis County Coroner Robert “Skip” Smith said there have been at least 12. The suicide rate more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, from eight in 2012 and 2013 to 14 or 15 in 2014.
Karen Moss, director of satellite services at Burrell Behavioral Health and interim clinic manager of the Sedalia clinic, said sometimes it takes family, friends and others on the outside to help a person with depression or suicidal tendencies get medical treatment.
“We want to help alleviate symptoms, so what we try to do is recommend for folks: If you have a family member who is sad, if you have a family member who seems hopeless, (if) you have a family member or a friend, don’t be reluctant to seek treatment,” Moss said. “There is treatment and there is help.”
Suicide might come as a surprise to loved ones of the victim. Moss coined the term “Robin Williams syndrome” in referring to these types of situations. Fortunately, there are signs family and friends can look for to prevent them from going through with it, such as hopelessness, sadness, changes in appetite and changes in sleep.
“If somebody starts making any remarks (about suicide) then we need to ask them, ‘Are you thinking of that?’ and try to get them help,” Moss said. “You can go to a mental health facility. You can go to an emergency room. You can go to your primary doctor. Treatment is available. We just push over and over. Treatment is available.
“Burrell is proud to be there to support every person that comes in the door and treatment modalities tend to be medication, counseling, support, and it’s known that the best success rates include all those, so when a person avails themselves to all the modalities, they tend to get better.”
There are many contributing factors to a person’s mental health status, such as his or her combination of family history, mental health, mental illness, even physical illness.
“Sometimes physical illness is what causes people to be so hopeless,” Moss said. “We often make an analogy. If you have a physical health problem, you don’t mind going to the doctor and getting treated. Why are we so reluctant when it’s a mental health issue?”
Substance abuse can also contribute to a person’s mental illness. Pathways Community Health is a mental health service that focuses on wellness and recovery from substance use disorders.
Donni Kuck, a licensed clinical social worker and vice president of operations at Pathways, said that without knowing the specific details of the suicides in Pettis County, it would be difficult to identify the reasons behind their actions, whether they were getting treatment and it wasn’t working or if they didn’t seek out treatment at all.
“Mental health still has a stigma, and I think it’s come a long way,” Kuck said. “I think that people are starting to understand mental health within the realm of health, and individuals with depression or substance use disorders or brain disorders that need to be treated like any other health issue, but not everybody sees mental health that way and unfortunately, people don’t seek out treatment when they need it.”
Pathways staff work with clients’ doctors and Burrell staff, and Kuck said this collaboration provides more effective care for each client.
“I think we’ve come a long way also in integrating care, integrating substance use and mental health services,” Kuck said. “The collaboration between Burrell and Pathways and the primary care doctors all help increase the effectiveness of the treatment, and we’re moving in that direction.”
Kuck said mental health providers are also not flying under the radar in their communities as much anymore.
“They’re starting to educate the community about who we are, what we do, when to seek our services, what kinds of services we provide,” Kuck said. “Historically, we all kind of flew under the radar in our communities because we thought if we’re out in the public, that would continue the stigmatization. We know that’s the opposite. We have to be the face in the community.”
Some options for clients seeking treatment at Pathways include intensive outpatient programming, counseling, group services, trauma services, community support services, nursing services, psychiatry services, medication after treatment and family counseling. However, each person’s situation is individual, so each treatment is also individual.
Libby Brockman-Knight, a licensed professional counselor and senior addiction recovery and prevention director at Pathways, said Pathways and other community agencies received funds to help with suicide prevention.
“We’ve offered several different evidence-based programs for prevention of suicide, but that’s part of what we do,” Brockman-Knight said. “We’re not just doing the treatment end of it. We’re also trying to do prevention, trying to help others identify those with risk factors.”
Leah Wankum can be reached at 826-1000 or @leahwankum.