The number of suicides and attempted suicides continues to rise in Clark County, prompting local health leaders to say more access is needed to mental health services.
Emergency calls to respond to suicides and attempted suicides has increased by 10 percent over the past three years, with more than 760 such calls last year. More than 20 people died from suicide last year.
Through June 30, 10 people have died by suicide, many of whom had gone untreated for depression, said Greta Mayer, Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties chief executive officer.
“We’re seeing them fall through the cracks and we don’t want that to happen,” she said.
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People make choices every day based on their mental health, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said. Poor mental health choices, especially when it comes to nutrition, can lead to poor physical health, he said.
“Across the board, it’s so incredibly important for our physical health and our overall county wellness,” Patterson said.
The demand for assessment services has gotten so great, Mental Health Services for Clark and Madison Counties is sending people home because they can’t get to all of them, Chief Executive Officer Curt Gillespie said.
“We could have four to five more therapists and we could fill them up,” he said.
With a large demand for services, both the mental health and substance abuse task forces in Clark County are working to add more prevention, including in local schools.
“It’s impacting day-to-day life,” Mayer said.
In 2014, an estimated 9.8 million adults in the U.S. — more than 4 percent of the population — were diagnosed with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Springfield is on par with the national average locally, Patterson said.
Clark County residents averaged about 4.2 poor mental health days every 30 days in 2014, according to the 2016 County Health Rankings, placing the county among the bottom 25 in Ohio.
The most recent Community Health Assessment performed last year showed about 40 percent of survey respondents had at least one day in the past 30 days with poor mental health. About 10 percent of those respondents said they had felt so sad or hopeless that they had stopped doing some usual activities.
About one out of every five people face mental illness, Mayer said. However typically only about 40 percent of them nationwide will seek treatment. It typically takes about 10 years for children or adults to seek treatment after the first signs of mental health symptoms, she said.
“Our charge is to reduce that,” Mayer said. “When you think about it, it’s just like any other physical health problem that you may have, whether its pre-diabetes or pre-cancer — the whole goal is to get in for screening early.”
The stigma of mental health keeps people from visiting a doctor, she said, and they will often wait for a traumatic event before seeking treatment.
“A lot of times depression is sneaky,” Mayer said. “There’s no one thing you can point to that’s the trigger, it could be a whole constellation of things. We let people to know that it’s OK. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength to be able to ask for help.”
Many local health care providers, including the Rocking Horse Community Health Center, have begun doing a behavioral health patient questionnaire as part of their regular practice. The Mental Health and Recovery Board is also working to provide interim services to people who may not be able to get treatment right away, Mayer said.
A mental illness occurs when feelings, thinking and behavior are impacted in such a way that it interferes with your ability to manage your everyday life, she said.
“When your functioning is impacted, that’s when it’s a problem,” Mayer said.
Some mental illnesses are chronic and require life-long management.
“The process is unique for each person,” Mayer said.
The MHRB is working with local agencies to help people understand the early warning signs of mental illness and addiction, Mayer said. The board is also focusing on helping people find services because many times they don’t know where to go to get help.
Early detection can often reduce the amount of treatment and put someone back on course quicker, Mayer said.
“If you wait until it’s a crisis-level, then maybe a job is at stake or important relationships are at stake,” she said.
‘No idea he was that ill’
Four years ago, Springfield resident Carlene Childs was so depressed she couldn’t get out of bed.
She often thought about suicide, feeling she was a burden on others and would be better off dead. She didn’t feel like eating.
Childs knew she was depressed; seeking help, however, wasn’t something she thought she needed.
“I didn’t think I needed it,” Childs said. “I thought I could get through it.”
Eventually she had enough. She went to Mental Health Services, where she was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia, anxiety and depression.
The organization saved her life, she said.
“I feel a lot better,” Childs said.
She’s unsure how long she lived with mental illness before she was diagnosed. She said she should’ve come sooner.
“You’re going to get good treatment here,” Childs said.
Springfield resident Cindy Price lost her son, Tim Price, to suicide in March of 2009. The signs were there, Price said, but even as a full-time nurse, she missed them.
“We had no idea he was that ill,” Price said.
Since his death, Price has been working with the Clark County Suicide Coalition and also serves as the coordinator of the MRC LOSS team. After a person dies from suicide, the team helps the family at the scene and gets them into counseling as soon as possible.
“I just make sure they have support,” Price said.
The Price family also runs an annual golf outing to raise money for suicide awareness and prevention.
After her son’s death, Price is no longer afraid to help someone who may be suffering with mental health issues.
“I do everything I can to help people to be aware of it and what to look for,” Price said. “It’s something that affects a family. It gets easier, but it never leaves you.”
‘Ten times worse’
An increase has been seen in dual diagnosis, Gillespie said, meaning people have both substance abuse issues and another mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
“It makes it 10 times worse,” Gillespie said.
That leads to local courts and jails being overrun with people with mental illness who are often required to seek treatment due to legal issues.
Clark County saw 74 accidental drug deaths last year, up from 37 in 2014. Heroin, fentanyl, crack cocaine and meth are all still causing problems in the community.
People with mental illness will often turn to illegal drugs, Patterson said.
“Many times when people get so desperate, when life seems so dark for them, they’re looking for a solution and heroin is one of those things where for some time they forget,” Patterson said.
The recovery board is also in the process of building a new, $490,000 development to house four individuals with mental health issues on the corner of Cedar and Race streets, which will include some on-site services. The project is expected to be completed later this summer.
‘Get ahead of this earlier’
The Mental Health and Recovery Board’s overall budget for fiscal year 2017 is about $7.8 million. A 10-year levy was passed in 2013, which generates about $3.7 million annually and provides money to fund prevention and treatment services, such as counseling, medication and case management for people with disabilities.
Mental Health Services has nearly 200 employees and its annual budget is more than $12 million for two counties.
More money for prevention could curb problems before they begin, local leaders say.
“If we could get ahead of this earlier, boy that would help,” Mayer said.
Another issue facing local residents is paying for services, Gillespie said. Many don’t seek treatment because they don’t have insurance and can’t afford it.
“It’s not something that’s always covered under a health plan,” Patterson said.
Some services are paid for through the mental health levy, while some providers adjust fees depending on income.
Mental Health Services also wants more children to get services in Clark County.
About 22 percent of Clark County middle school students and 18 percent of high school students here have contemplated suicide, according to a 2015 survey by the Clark County Combined Health District.
The community is working to help children of all ages through the implementation of the PAX Good Behavior Game, a classroom strategy that helps students delay self-gratification and self-manage, WellSpring PAX partner Dawn White said.
“Research shows those things can produce very positive lifetime outcomes,” White said.
The game is currently in eight schools and the goal is to be in 14 schools by March 2019. The program is sponsored by the Mental Health Recovery Board and the Wilson-Sheehan Foundation.
It can also prevent mental health problems before they start and reduce suicidal thoughts in children, Mayer said.
“It has long-term benefits 25 years out,” Mayer said.
Local schools are interested in bringing the game to their students, she said, but funding can be a challenge.
The game is in its second year of implementation, White said. More teacher training will be held on Aug. 3, White said.
“As we move along, as more teachers get to kick the tires and try it out we’re going to expand,” White said.
Mental Health Services also recently hired two child psychiatrists, as well as added more child therapists who have been trained in trauma-informed care, Gillespie said. The new hires will allow the organization to reduce the waiting list for services.
“We’re going to be able to take care of a lot more kids in this community than we used to be able to take care of,” Gillespie said.
Children can’t learn when a behavioral problem or a psychiatric illness that’s interrupting, Gillespie said. Local schools often provide referrals to the organization, he said.
More local children are living in households with addicted parents, which leads to attention and behavioral problems because their basic needs aren’t being met.
“We’re seeing an increase in anxiety disorders in kids that’s unbelievable,” Gillespie said. “It’s just spiraled like crazy … We’re hoping to pick up the slack here and see if we can’t get all kids who need services some kind of service.”