Getting help for a mental health or substance use disorder is an important step forward, yet for some, barriers to treatment still exist. “Young adults are getting really good at expressing themselves about their mental health, but stigma is still a huge thing,” says Dana Lasenby, executive director and CEO at Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN).
“It takes courage for someone to come out and say they are not OK. As a parent, if my child is dizzy or has pain, I am going to address the problem and get my child the care he or she needs.” Lasenby says. “It’s the same with mental health, and that’s why we talk about it and encourage people to get help and access services that are readily available, now more than ever.”
Education can counteract stigma and other barriers to treatment. Frequent conversations within your family, friends and work circles can build awareness about the importance of seeking treatment — and to persist, even in the face of longer waits to access services.
Over-stretched behavioral health supports pre-pandemic are even more inundated now as individuals are coping with grief and trauma, but what’s important is that people are seeking help and are continually encouraged to do so, says Lasenby.
One OCHN program, called Begin Ending Stigma Today (BEST), works to recast common language and encourage seeking behavioral health services without the fear of criticism or bullying. “We want to make sure those needs are not minimized,” explains Lasenby. “How many times do we say that we need a mental health day? This is a great way to bust stigma. There’s value in encouraging each other to use the time off we have earned.”
Another OCHN program elevates peer mentor voices of those with mental health and substance use disorders. “These individuals share their stories so people know there is hope and that they can have a happy life,” Lasenby says.
Recognizing the need for school support, OCHN is launching a school mental health navigator program. Students and parents can call OCHN navigators who can help determine what support they need. “Maybe they have a friend they are worried about. Our navigator can help them come up with ideas and resources. This program was in the works before the shooting at Oxford High School because we recognize that kids are struggling with anxiety, depression, suicide and other pressures,” Lasenby says.
In addition to extending service hours, OCHN is expanding its Resource and Crisis Center, in Pontiac, to accommodate 10 beds specifically for children. This valuable community resource allows families to access urgent behavioral health services outside of the emergency room.
To ease barriers to treatment, each of us can be an ambassador for good mental health, Lasenby says. “Talk. Start the conversation. The critical piece is knowing help is there. You don’t have to know how to help but you can link to others. Let’s talk about it.”
OCHN leads a provider service network that assists approximately 23,000 Oakland County citizens at more than 300 service sites across the county. People who receive public mental health services through OCHN’s provider network include those who have an intellectual or developmental disability, mental health challenge or substance use disorder.
OCHN’s goal is to ensure individuals are aware of and have access to services and supports that will improve their health and quality of life, as well as ensure their engagement in full community participation. Its mission to “inspire hope, empower people and strengthen communities” reflects an unyielding belief in a “Valuable System for Valued People.” Programs and supports provided by OCHN’s service network are available at oaklandchn.org.