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Integrated Mental Health Services Reduce Stigma

In case you haven’t already heard it from a musician, an actor or an athlete, it’s OK not to be OK.

Really.

While mental health is getting more focus and attention during the pandemic, chronic anxiety about exposure to COVID‑19 and struggles with isolation are huge factors contributing to increased anxiety and depression, financial strain or worry and uncertainty.

In these difficult times, Samaritan is making it easier to find help by integrating behavioral health care into traditional medical settings, like doctor’s offices and clinics.

Rachel Bailey, DO, is a primary care clinician at Samaritan Depoe Bay Clinic, where many mental health concerns can be addressed during an office visit.

“Mental health is the basis of our overall health,” said Dr. Bailey. “All you need to do is ask and be open to positive change.”

Mental health is one of eight aspects of wellness (body, mind, environment, spirit, community, emotions, finance and work) that can affect quality of life. Concerns such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, grief or loss can be discussed during a behavioral health consultation.

Even with more open dialogue about mental health during the pandemic, there is still a stigma to overcome, said Robert Fallows, PsyD, a neuropsychologist with Samaritan.

“There are many avenues to get help,” Dr. Fallows said. “We want to meet patients where they are and strive to create an environment in which people are aware of the options and reach out for the help they need."

Many Samaritan primary care clinics are supported by behavioral health providers, including psychologists, neuropsychologists, clinical social workers and mental health specialists who can meet with patients in the clinic to review skills to reduce emotional distress.

Some people appreciate having behavioral health care available in the primary care office setting.

“These sessions tend to be very effective in promoting positive mental health,” Dr. Fallows said.

There are also programs for longer‑term mental health therapy and medication management. The addition of behavioral health specialists, who help patients manage their illnesses, has increased access to mental health services. Mental health specialists gather detailed information from patients. This information is shared with a psychiatrist … who then advises clinicians about medications and other potentially helpful therapies. This ensures that the clinicians are comfortable and knowledgeable with prescribing psychiatric medications.

Planning is underway for a mental health medical home in Lebanon, a place for adult patients who have severe persistent mental illness, including psychotic disorders, chronic suicidality, personality disorders, severe forms of PTSD as well as chronic or complex medical issues. When it opens, Samaritan Medical Group Mental Health and community partners will provide comprehensive treatment and better care through a team‑based approach.

Samaritan clinicians are also unified in responding to suicide concerns by using common language, assessments and interventions. Clinicians and office staff have been trained to spot signs of increased risk for suicidal or self‑harm behaviors, provide a warm and empathetic environment, safely assess the situation and help patients to remove the danger.

“That last part is key,” said Dr. Fallows.

Nearly half of people who die from suicide were seen by a clinician in the month prior.

“If we can identify and help the patient remove the means, then there can be a substantial decrease in the risk of self‑harm,” he said.

Safety plans can include lock boxes for medications and firearms or placing these items with trusted individuals.

Oregon had the nation’s 13th highest suicide rate across all ages in 2020, with 833 deaths. Suicide is the second‑leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 24 and men and boys are 3.5 times more likely to die by attempted suicide. Veterans make up 18% of suicide deaths in the U.S.

Suicide is not a rare consequence of mental health concerns, Dr. Fallows emphasized.

“Suicidal thoughts are common,” he said. “Just like any other condition, when we catch it early and support people, we are more likely to help them stay safe.”

We can all help prevent suicide. Free and confidential support for you or a loved one is available 24/7. Oregon’s Safe + Strong Helpline, 800‑923‑HELP (4357)24/7 Suicide Prevention National Lifeline, 800‑273‑8255.