Letter to the Editor: Act now to improve mental health

To the Editor:

Small steps can lead to big progress in mental health. In America today, approximately one out of five Americans is suffering from a mental health issue; and approximately one in 25 adults is experiencing a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with one or more major life activities. In addition, 17% of Americans ages 12 and older have a substance use disorder. Left unaddressed, the negative impact of these disorders will increase.

The time to act is now. As CEO of Valle Vista Health System my staff and I have the privilege of serving many members of our community who are experiencing some of the most challenging times of their lives — mental health or substance use disorders that can be invisible to the casual observer in ways that physical illnesses are not. As a behavioral health organization, we must build capacity to serve the need by attracting new providers, expanding our workforce, investing in prevention and reducing barriers to care.

The state of Indiana has a mission to provide Outpatient Treatment Program locations within 60 minutes of every Hoosier. Our team at Valle Vista plays a role in achieving this mission and we firmly believe convenience of treatment is paramount for patient success.

The good news is that there are hope and resources for recovery. Today, positive outcomes are not only possible, they are experienced every day. Like chronic physical illness, mental health and substance use disorders can be diagnosed and effectively managed. Individuals who were once in despair can go on to live their best lives. This is highly rewarding and one of many reasons I chose to work in this field.

In addition, at the end of April 2024, our nation witnessed a historic achievement regarding Suicide Prevention. The 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention was published alongside the first-of-its-kind Federal Action Plan which makes the strategy more impactful. The Federal Action Plan directed by The White House places accountability for progress at various departments including the CDC, Department of Defense (DoD), the VA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), HHS and others. We look forward to achieving meaningful advancements in suicide prevention under this strategy.

What else can we do within our communities to recognize the signs of behavioral health challenges and assist those in need of care and treatment?

Listen and show understanding: If you suspect a loved one is struggling, encourage them to seek professional help.

Share the Crisis Response number 988, a 24/7, free and confidential text, chat, talk support line. Military veterans may press ‘1’ for dedicated support.

In case of acute emergency, dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Suicide is often preventable when people at risk receive the support that they need.

Our schools should encourage students to pursue careers in behavioral health fields, whether through nursing, medical or vocational programs. We need to inspire the next generation of talented professionals.

Working together, we can improve the lives of Americans struggling with mental health concerns, not just during this month, but every month in every community across the country.

Mental wellness starts here.

Kristen Primeau

Valle Vista Health System