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HealthFocused

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Improving mental health through community outreach

November 29, 2018
Published in: Community Outreach

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Augusta Health's most recent Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) identified the top health needs of the Staunton, Augusta County, and Waynesboro (SAW) and provides what some may consider surprising results about the mental health of local residents. Findings show that 21.8% of SAW adults have experienced symptoms of chronic depression. However, only 14.9% are currently taking medication or receiving treatment from a doctor or other healthcare professional for some type of mental health condition. Between 2012-2014 there was an annual average age-adjusted suicide rate of 18.9 deaths per 100,000 population in SAW.

According to Krystal Moyers, the Augusta Health Director of Community Outreach, the needs assessment identified that the suicide rate in SAW is higher than state and national averages. CHNA survey respondents characterized mental health as a major problem in the community. These findings prompted Augusta Health to make mental health one of the top three priority areas of focus for community outreach efforts. We sat down with Krystal to find out more about the mental health focus area, the challenges surrounding the issue, and what solutions Community Outreach are pursuing.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with others, and the ability to cope with challenges. Mental disorders are health conditions characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, and/or behavior that are associated with distress and/or impaired functioning. Mental health plays a major role in people's ability to maintain good physical health.

How was Mental Health Chosen as a Focus Area?

Mental health was a large part of the discussion with the key informants and organizations that participated in the Community Health Needs Assessment process. The CHNA discovered that in parts of our community there are higher incidents of those with a mental health diagnosis than the state or national average. Augusta Health feels it is an important need to be addressed and we are exploring ways to can better serve the community in our outreach efforts.

What are the Challenges in Addressing Mental Health?

Access and awareness are two main challenges. Some people may not feel it is okay to reach out for help. Some people may not know where to reach out, and some people may know but not have the resources available, whether that is insurance or transportation, to connect all the dots to receive care. Although conversations about mental health are becoming more commonplace, there is still a stigma attached to a mental health diagnosis. Augusta Health wants to implement solutions to reduce barriers to care.

What is an Example of a Program That's Addressing Mental Health in SAW?

One program that has been implemented is called Healthcare for the Homeless. Augusta Health's Community Outreach Department is working with Valley Mission and WARM (Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry) at their temporary housing and thermal housing shelters to provide basic first aid, health screenings including a mental health screening, health education, and resources for their clients. If an individual completes a mental health screening and requires follow-up care with a mental health provider, a connection is made to the appropriate provider.

Representatives from the Virginia Department of Health, Valley Community Services Board, Department of Social Services, Augusta Regional Clinic, and Augusta Health Financial Assistance are helping with the program to easily connect people in real-time to needed resources. Since transportation may be a barrier for some, bus tokens are provided to access transportation to attend follow-up appointments. Ultimately, by having all the resources on-site and working together, we can offer a warm handoff from one organization to the next, in hopes people feel more confident and empowered to access those services.

What Role Do Volunteers Have in Health Care for the Homeless?

The Health Care for the Homeless Program will be partnering with Augusta Health's Faith Community Nurse (FCN) Network. The FCN Network is a partnership between Augusta Health, local faith communities and nurses within those faith communities who are interested in coordinating a health ministry. Many of the faith communities in the network also serve as a host for WARM's thermal shelter or partner with Valley Mission in some capacity. The Healthcare for the Homeless program is a good opportunity to pull everyone together into one larger partnership.

Follow our series about Community Outreach where we take a close look at the initiatives taking place to address nutrition and physical activity, diabetes, and mental health in Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro.