Lori Nunnink-Taylor: Increase outreach to those with mental health challenges | TheUnion.com

Lori Nunnink-Taylor: Increase outreach to those with mental health challenges

From Founding Father Abraham Lincoln, space explorer Buzz Aldrin, and distinguished author Ernest Hemingway, to broadcast journalist Mike Wallace, baseball great Daryl Strawberry, and internationally-recognized actor and comedian Robin Williams, mental illness has inadvertently helped shape the American culture.

But for Williams — and thousands of individuals each year whose desperation leads to suicide — help comes too late.

Moreover, the unfavorable stigma associated with mental illness often perpetuates a cycle of indifference that continues to plague the national landscape. The cost mental illness has on a nationwide scale is measured not by numbers alone, but by the impact it has on individuals, families, communities, and the collective American society.

And Nevada County is not immune to its caustic effects.

Nevada County residents have stepped up to the plate in supporting those local organizations that seek innovation for effectively serving people with mental illness.

The recent trial of Aurora, Colo. theatre shooter James Eagan Holmes and countless similar incidents highlight the increase in violent crime and ever-growing proportion of individuals suffering from mental illness in America. As with much of the nation, Nevada County is experiencing a steady increase in ethnic diversity, necessitating a demand for cultural diversity awareness. A lack of understanding of varying cultural values, traditions, and beliefs adopted by individual cultures often contributes to the plethora of obstacles mental health practitioners and administrators face when addressing the needs of people with mental illness. Thus, an aggregate approach to cultural diversity requires a high degree of cultural competence.

Culturally competent mental health services include policies and practices that enable mental health personnel to effectively address the social, behavioral, and mental health needs of mentally ill individuals within the community. Culturally competent administrators and practitioners recognize that culture influences attitudes, expressions of distress, and help-seeking practices that affect communication and a mentally ill individual’s ability to reach out. Respecting patients’ cultural beliefs and attitudes is an important factor for effectively meeting the needs of that individual, in particular when a mentally ill person’s societal views vary from the professional’s views. Thus, a genuine willingness and desire to understand other cultures is a critical component to effectively addressing the mental health needs of the mentally ill.

Cultural competence includes a set of skills or processes that enable mental health professionals to provide services that are culturally appropriate for the diverse populations they serve. Violent incidents such as the Aurora shootings have forced health professionals to become more knowledgeable and aware of the challenges they face when providing health care to a culturally and racially diverse population. Unfortunately, however, despite societal concern regarding ethnic disparities of access to culturally appropriate mental health care, and calls for mandatory cultural competency training for professionals, there is little information about the effectiveness of cultural competency training in mental health settings.

It is well established that in order to provide culturally competent care, however, knowledge of cultural beliefs, values, and practices is necessary, otherwise health practitioners may easily fall prey to errors of diagnosis, inappropriate management, and poor compliance.

Fortunately, Nevada County appears to be setting the standard for cultural competency within the mentally ill population. According to worldlifeexpectancy.com, in 2006 Nevada County was ranked number one in suicide rate per capita in the state. In 2011, that ranking dramatically decreased, placing Nevada County 18th among the 58 California counties. Whether there exists a direct correlation with diversity awareness and the decrease in suicide rates is unknown. However, these numbers are significant in demonstrating that the strides mental health care providers in Nevada County are making is resulting in a measurable and positive difference in the health of our community.

In addition to early mental health screenings, awareness campaigns that — with the deliberate help of a conscientious mainstream media — de-stigmatize people with mental illness, combined with community-based outreach services that encourage early and voluntary treatment for anyone presenting signs of mental illness, are essential components for developing a comprehensive and successful mental health program.

Nevada County residents have stepped up to the plate in supporting those local organizations that seek innovation for effectively serving people with mental illness. It is with the community’s collective adherence to a call for action to increase outreach efforts among both our adult and youth populations, educate itself on the stigmas and realities of mental illness, and support of those tasked to provide for the needs of the mentally ill, that, together, we are building a healthier, more hopeful community.

Lori Nunnink-Taylor is the executive director of Anew Day.

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