Only a multipronged approach to mental health care will meet the needs of young people who are growing up in the age of smart phones and high expectations, according to a panel of experts who spoke at Tuesday’s GLT Community Conversation.
With McLean County and other U.S. communities facing a shortage in psychiatrists—especially those able to see kids—and other gaps in care, the panel said there were other ways to improve the mental health care network locally. Diane Wolf, an administrator in District 87 who serves on the county’s Mental Health Advisory Board, cautioned against looking for one magic solution to a complex problem.
“Our students are giving us some signs that, as adults, are new to us too. We’re in a society we’ve never walked in before, with 24/7 everything,” she said. “It’s a danger to start looking for one magic anything. Because as soon as you start doing that, the 99,000 other things are pushed aside.”
Around 120 people attended the third event in the GLT Community Conversation series, held at Illinois State University’s Alumni Center in Normal.
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Several panelists pointed to the use of telepsychiatry—providing care by videoconference-style technology—as a promising solution to McLean County’s lack of psychiatrists. The county recently hired Genoa Healthcare to begin providing telepsychiatry treatment for behavioral health referrals.
Dr. Mary Dobbins, who teaches at SIU Medicine and is board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry, said she wants to see psychiatrists used in different ways.
Dobbins said she once stepped into a new position that came with a long waiting list of clients wanting to see her. So she helped devised a plan where therapists helped those clients' primary care providers, looking at other “social determinants” of health, such as hunger and homelessness. And that holistic approach worked; soon the clinics were empty.
“There were all sorts of other things that could be done that weren’t necessarily mental health related. It was pulling things together. Then all at once they didn’t need psychiatry,” Dobbins said. “It gives people more of a wraparound everyday support. There was this whole type of care that was slipping through the cracks.”
Stephanie Roberts, who lost her 16-year-old daughter Isabel to suicide in 2018, also spoke on the panel. The first signs of trouble emerged when Roberts noticed Isabel, who suffered from depression, was self-harming as an eighth-grader. Her downfall, Roberts said, came after Isabel shared inappropriate photos of herself with a male student who then shared them with friends.
“I saw a lot of needing to be something that she thought was perfect. Hair had to be done a certain way. Clothes had to be bought this way,” Roberts said.
Roberts said her family discovered a “big and scary flaw in our system” when they tried to get Isabel help. Isabel was caught in a maze of referrals and was in and out of inpatient care four times in a year, unable to see a psychiatrist. If Isabel had had cancer, it would've been easier to at least get help, Roberts said.
She said Bloomington-Normal simply needs more psychiatrists.
“And there’s gotta be a better way to red flag the students that really need it,” said Roberts, wearing an “I Am Isabel’s Voice” T-shirt on the panel.
Trisha Malott, McLean County Behavioral Health Coordinating Council supervisor, said deeper data collection could help identify the highest-risk populations before it’s too late.
“How do we start to intervene earlier? How do we move toward a prevention effort? Because that’s where we strive to be,” Malott said. “How can we reach a point where we don’t have to have a conversation like this?”
Other panelists included J. Brian Goldrick, a juvenile court judge on the Eleventh Judicial Circuit; and Tom Barr, executive director of the McLean County Center for Human Services. The discussion was moderated by GLT news director Charlie Schlenker and GLT reporter Mary Cullen.
The GLT Community Conversation series is made possible by the Alice and Fannie Fell Trust at Illinois State University.
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