39% in Ky. had symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder Feb. 3-15; community mental health centers can help them

Steve Shannon

By Steve Shannon
Kentucky Association of Regional Programs

The hurt is real for the people of Kentucky and across the globe. The mental anguish of isolation, remote learning, loss of life, economic contraction and joblessness weigh heavy on the minds of all of us. Kentuckians are a tough group who have seen good times and our fair share of bad times. None of are immune to the mental strains from the fallout of the pandemic; 39% of Kentuckians had symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder from Feb. 3 through 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Try as some might, it is impossible to hide from these feelings. It is best to address them head on with the help of professionals. Thankfully, there is a mental health safety net available to all Kentuckians regardless of means.

After President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act in 1963, Kentucky became a trailblazer in creating a statewide network of community mental health centers. The state’s 14 regional CMHCs meet the needs of individuals who require services for mental illness, addiction or developmental or intellectual disabilities by ensuring access to a comprehensive and high-quality system of integrated primary/behavioral healthcare. They serve as the only providers for those who cannot pay or do not have insurance. This mission is more important than ever in a time of despair for so many and when one in three Kentuckians now rely on Medicaid.

CMHCs continue to maintain their workforce amid tight budgets strained by pension payments, playing a critical role in several ways. Staff continues to provide crisis services to the severely mentally ill. The centers redoubled their efforts when admissions to state psychiatric hospitals were halted due to outbreak in those facilities.

CMHCs maintain their 24/7 capabilities to address the needs of individuals in a crisis. Beyond that, they doubled down to provide critical crisis-intervention Training courses for law-enforcement officials, clergy, and other community partners. The 40-hour program teaches police and others verbal de-escalation and active listening. The program has decreased the number of injuries to law enforcement officers and the public in cases where someone may have a mental illness, substance use disorder, intellectual disability, or dual diagnosis. Crisis-intervention training has proven to be a best practice model for jail diversion of people with mental illness, and this was more important than ever to prevent overcrowding in jails and prisons.

The intellectual and developmental disabilities teams continue to support some of Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens in residential settings. Substance use disorder treatment teams increased their efforts to help our neighbors battle their addiction and find a path to reach (and stay) in recovery, including expanded telehealth and residential treatment. These programs have helped attack the commonwealth’s rising overdose rate head-on.

Many know that youth, who are used to routines have been thrown for a loop. CMHC therapists and school-based staff support children and families as they navigate virtual classrooms and the isolation from classmates and coworkers. As more schools and larger districts return to classes, trained specialists from all the CMHC regions continue to work with their education partners to ensure kids stay connected and in a positive mental state.

Any Kentuckian who requires services for mental illness, substance use disorder, or developmental or intellectual disabilities should not hesitate to reach out to the center nearest them.

Steve Shannon is executive director of the Kentucky Association of Regional Programs, the nonprofit representing community mental health centers.

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