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It's never too late: Cass County addresses mental health needs head-on

WALKER—Mental illness. Chemical dependency. Suicide. Post-traumatic stress. These are all terms we hear a lot about today.

Cass County Health, Human and Veterans Services Director Michelle Piprude and Tammy Stacey, county team leader for adult and children mental health services, discussed recently the wide range of programs the county offers to help people to recover.

According to the Cass County website, one in 25 people live with a serious mental illness. One in 10 young people experience a period of major depression. People living with a serious mental illness have a 10- to 25-year shorter lifespan.

Mental illness is something that can be treated, just like a broken bone or cancer. For more information about mental illness go to the county website at Click on health, human and veterans services, then adult mental health.

Identifying that there is a problem is the key starting point, Piprude said.

Anyone can call the Crisis Line—which serves Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties—at 800-462-5525 (Brainerd exchange line 828-4357) 24 hours a day not only when there is a crisis, but also to learn more about how to get help before reaching a crisis or just to find out what mental illness is.

Cass County residents also can call the county's HHVS at 218-547-1340 and ask to talk to a mental health or chemical dependency social worker.

Victims of post-traumatic stress or mental illness often think no one can help, Piprude said.

It starts with evaluating where a person is in their journey toward recovery, Stacey said. The quicker they treat it, the better the success at stabilizing and recovery.

She said that with a qualifier—it's never too late to treat someone. She has had clients in their 70s who overcame a lifelong alcohol addiction to enjoy their later life alcohol free.

It does not take waiting until hitting bottom to turn a life around, she said. Chronic alcohol and drug users or mentally ill people can start their recovery at any point in their life, Stacey stressed.

Mental health and chemical abuse (drug or alcohol) often are intertwined, Piprude said, estimating at least 75 percent of Cass County mental illness cases also involve chemical abuse.

It can start with a person using chemicals to mask their symptoms of mental illness, or chemical use can cause a mental illness, Piprude said.

Treatment now can address both issues at once when both are present, she said.

Medications may be used to help treat symptoms, while counseling and support helps the person build a plan and to act toward their recovery to a normal, enjoyable life, she explained.

Counseling also can lead people to more support services to help them achieve their recovery goals.

Mental illness can affect people from young preschoolers through grade school age children to teens, adults and seniors. There are programs to help all age levels.

Cass County HHVS serves all income levels for mental illness or chemical dependency, not just low-income people. It offers a sliding fee schedule based on income for some programs not covered by insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.

Treatment starts by identifying the problem a person has and the level of help needed to reach recovery, Piprude said.

This can happen through a doctor visit, at a hospital, by calling Crisis Line, at school or pre-school, by a visit to a mental health clinic like Northern Pines Mental Health Center (phone: 218-829-3235) or while a person is in Cass County Jail.

Whenever someone calls 911 about a mental health emergency, Piprude said, a specially trained HHVS mental health social worker also is dispatched with law enforcement. Officers also are more highly trained in mental health issues today, she said.

For two years inmates have had the ability to video conference from the jail with a psychologist or psychiatrist, from their office or hospital, to start or continue treatment while the inmate is in jail, Piprude said.

For anyone with mental illness or chemical dependency, treatment starts by identifying what type of problem the person has, their strengths and their weaknesses.

Treatment may begin with a short term hospitalization or a consultation with a professional while the person remains at home. A crisis situation may first require hospitalization to stabilize the person before they can return home.

For adults, treatment options may include any of the following:

• Short-term hospitalization,

• Adult rehabilitative mental health services,

• Assertive community treatment for intensive services at home,

• Certified community behavioral health clinic services,

• Certified peer specialists (a pairing of someone who needs help with a mentor who has successfully recovered from mental illness or chemical dependency),

• Crisis response (follow-up support to someone who has been in crisis),

• Day treatment (intensive psychotherapeutic treatment),

• Dialectical behavior therapy (intensive individual treatment),

• Group skills training, telephone coaching and consultation team meetings),

• Employment services,

• First episode psychosis (includes identifying the type of mental illness a person has),

• Intensive residential treatment services,

• Targeted case management (medical, social, educational, vocational services),

• Outpatient hospital or clinic services (individual, family, group therapy),

• Partial hospitalization program (group and family services).

For children, there are the following services:

• Behavioral health home services,

• Case management services,

• Certified community behavioral health clinics,

• Child and adolescent behavioral health services,

• Child and teen checkup clinics,

• Children's residential treatment,

• Community mental health centers,

• Day treatment,

• Early childhood mental health services,

• First episode psychosis,

• In home services for individual, family or group therapy,

• Integrated dual disorders treatment for mental health and addiction,

• Intensive treatment in foster care,

• Mental health behavioral aide,

• Minnesota intensive therapeutic homes,

• Outpatient mental health services,

• Partial hospitalization,

• Psychiatric residential treatment facilities,

• Psychiatric acute care or psychiatric hospitalization,

• Respite care for families who care for mentally ill children at home,

• School linked mental health services at school in winter and at child's home in summer,

• Transitional services for youths ages 14 to 25,

• Trauma-informed care for post-traumatic stress disorder,

• Youth assertive community treatment for youths ages 16 to 20.

All mental illnesses and chemical dependencies can be treated, Piprude and Stacey emphasized. There are support services to help people recover.

They said the peer support service which pairs recovered people as mentors with those working toward recovery has been especially successful.

Stacey has worked through her 20-plus year career with mental illness, chemical dependency and children's services said she was rewarded for her work many times over when she has seen people turn their life around and become successful.

"You don't get any bigger reward than that," she said.

Piprude reiterated, "It's never too late to seek help."