Mental Health Summit in Apple Valley focuses on 'stigma of silence'
Daily Press - 5/11/2018
May 11--APPLE VALLEY -- College student Alejandra "Alex" Drew received a standing ovation from a room full of community leaders after she boldly declared she was bipolar and that she once struggled with "being suicidal."
Drew shared her message of "pain and hope" to a packed house at the Inaugural High Desert Mental Health Summit, hosted by St. Joseph Health, St. Mary.
The day-long "Building Pathways to Hope" summit, held Wednesday at the Town of Apple Valley's Conference Center, included speakers, breakout sessions, panel discussions and other activities that surround an issue that affects one in five American adults.
Held during National Mental Health Month, the goal of the summit was to examine regional mental/behavioral health data, problems/issues, services and best practices. And to work collectively to address the challenges/barriers, enhance existing programs and explore other opportunities.
"I'm encouraged by today's attendance and by those who are here to join forces with others to learn more about how we can help those struggling with mental health issues," said Alan Garrett, the president/CEO of St. Mary.
Garrett shared a few mental health facts surrounding American adults, including 18.1 percent experience anxiety disorder and 41 percent are unable to receive treatment because of the lack of resources.
"In my research, I was shocked to find that 18 to 22 veterans commit suicide every day, which is beyond distressing," said Garrett, who pointed to data that show an alarming increase in the number of suicides.
During a 15-year period ending in 2014, the total suicide rate increased 24 percent from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Drew's message during the summit resonated with many in attendance whose desire is to dismantle the "stigma of silence" surrounding the mental health industry and those seeking help.
"Being bipolar was a life of extremes," said Drew, who attends Victor Valley College and plans to transfer to a four-year university. "One day, I was baking 500 cookies until 5 o'clock in the morning and the next day I just couldn't get up."
During the summit, Drew explained how her "suicide attempt" at age 15 led to her bipolar diagnosis and to a world where there's a lack of mental health professionals to meet the growing need.
"There were a lot of well-meaning people that cared for me in the hospital, but there were times when I felt dehumanized," Drew said. "I went from a girl known as Alex -- to being known as a high risk."
Drew's mother, Rosa Ramirez, who shared the stage with her daughter, shared her story of helplessness as she watched her daughter plunge into a system that was short staffed and "overwhelmed."
"Every day is mental health day because there is no health without mental health," said Dr. Clayton Chau with Providence St. Joseph, who received a round of applause for his sentiment.
With "one in five" Americans and "half the world" affected by a mental health issue, depression will overtake heart disease as the No. 1 disability in the world by the year 2020, said Chau, who believes California will experience a shortage of over 4,000 mental health professionals by that time.
"We also have to break this stigma around mental health," Chau said. "People call in sick because of a physical ailment, but you never hear someone call in sick because they don't feel emotionally well. We need to get over that."
Dr. Carizma Chapman, the clinical director of Integration at Inland Empire Health Plan, said her not-for-profit Medi-Cal and Medicare health network is working toward improving its work in mental health.
Headquartered in Rancho Cucamonga, IEHP is creating a Population Health Framework, where they plan to evaluate the community and develop a "risk pyramid" to evaluate the level of care a patient would need.
Andrew Gruchy, the deputy director of the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health, said 4.7 percent of adults living in the IE suffer from severe mental illness, with that number rising to 9.3 percent for those living in poverty-stricken areas.
Gruchy announced the future construction of a DBH building on Corwin Road in Apple Valley, about two blocks east of St. Mary. The facility is expected to serve nearly 1,000 clients a year.
Azusa Pacific University lead nursing instructor Lydia Usry, who was at the summit with nursing director Dr. Renee Marquez and 23 nursing students, said the topics covered at the summit were equivalent to the coursework taught by Marquez and herself.
"They covered 24 different topics such as homelessness, bullying, LGBTQ, suicide prevention and veterans," Usry said. "I told my students that healthcare is not inside the four walls of the hospital, but it starts with individuals, the family and the community."
First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood closed the summit by thanking the organizers, praising the collaborative efforts of those who attended and supported the summit, and hoping the continued dialogue would lead to a plan of action.
For more information, visit www.stmaryapplevalley.com or www.eachmindmatters.org.
Reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com, Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz and Instagram @reneraydelacruz
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