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2:02 PM Tue, Dec. 11th

Mental health is the number one health priority

This is Part 2 of a five-part series assessing health care needs and goals in Mohave County.

KINGMAN – Not all illnesses are visible. Some are hidden deep inside our minds and can only be diagnosed by those specialized professionals. The ones who notice when a smile is too bright, too forced or when anger is a defense mechanism for pain.

Mental health is the first priority in Kingman’s Community Health Improvement Plan. A CHIP is a guide that public health, nonprofit hospitals and cross-sector community partners use to collaborate and respond to key factors that may be limiting the ability of community members to lead full, happy and healthy lives.

During key informant interviews of the Community Health Assessment, drug use and mental health are the most pressing health concerns in the community.

Suicides are the leading cause of death in the United States. For every suicide death there are 25 attempts. Here in Mohave County, with a population of just over 200,000, the age-adjusted death rate due to suicide is 29.5 per 100,000. The Arizona state rate is 17 per 100,000.

Access to mental health care in Mohave County is rather limited, according to the CHA. The ratio of residents to mental health care providers is 1,420 to 1, which is worse than the state average of 800 to 1.

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Almost 16 percent of Mohave County residents who responded to the CHA survey said they did not have access to mental health professionals in their community. Another 7 percent said they were uncomfortable using the providers in their community, and 10 percent believed the services provided were insufficient.

“It’s such an intimate personal relationship, but it doesn’t work if I don’t trust you,” said one Kingman focus group participant of mental health care.

Suicide rates aren’t the only issue facing Mohave County. While moderate in comparison to peer counties, the percentage of depression in adults is 10.3 percent. The median of the entire U.S. is 12.4 percent. Nearly 9 percent of respondents stated they felt depressed most days, 10.7 percent stated they are anxious or nervous most days, and 10.4 percent are not able to control or stop worrying most days.

The overall goal of the mental health committee is to improve mental health support through prevention and access to meet the mental health needs of the Kingman region. To do that they plan to address the stigma surrounding mental health in the community and begin decreasing the number of suicide-related deaths in Mohave County.

“We want people to come forward with stories,” said Jeannie Bowen, special programs manager at Mohave County Department of Health. “Stories are very powerful. It can be one story, but 12 other people could be experiencing the same thing.”

An increase in the use of evidence-based mental health screening tools should help screen for suicidal or depressed patients. The idea is that screening patients will allow providers to better serve them, and hopefully aid in preventing any suicide-related deaths.

The two strategies going forward to help decrease stigmatization of mental health by 10 percent before 2020 are developing a training toolkit and partnering with Mohave Community College. The toolkit is meant to be aimed at mental health stigma reduction presentations which can be altered based on setting and age group. MCC IT students are going to be sought out for help with developing web-based resources and social media communications along the same vein.

“It’s stigmatized when you do seek help,” a Kingman focus group participant said. “You feel ashamed. And then to have a new doctor every 90 days and have to repeat yourself. You’ve already lived it, and then you have to relive it again and again.”

High staff turnover caused by overwhelmed service providers is partly to blame for the lack of trust. Key informants noted that the decrease in federal and state funding has contributed to limited operations.

Combating mental health stigma and the rise of anxiety and depression isn’t an easy task. It takes several small moments, such as “No Child Eats Alone Day” at the local schools. This program had members of the police department, fire department and the courts going to lunch at school. Everyone found a child who was eating by themselves and sat with them.

“The kids just opened up,” said Teri Williams, director of communications and marketing at Kingman Regional Medical Center. “It’s one kid for one hour, and it was just an amazing thing.”

Mental health is, by and large, the biggest concern of the Kingman community. It’s a need that cannot be ignored.