County-wide mental health survey launched
If it was up to Ray Freer, the memories surrounding his son’s tragic death in 2002 would be forgotten.
"My son had a psychotic break while a sophomore in college," Freer said in an email to The Park Record. "He never fully recovered from it having a minimum of three more breaks. Every time he courageously tried to come back by being a Marine, then a kindergarten teacher, construction worker and finally a ski instructor. Each time he was dealt a setback of some type.
"If I had a choice I would sweep it all under the rug," Freer said. "But I’m not going to do that."
Freer speaks openly about how his son took his own life more than 15 years after he first experienced the onset of mental illness. Freer explained how his son suffered several psychotic breaks before he was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
As a result of his experiences, Freer has chosen to become a community advocate in Summit County’s discussion about mental health and substance abuse services.
"I’ve had experiences with everything with mental illness," Freer said. "You wouldn’t get engaged in this discussion if you didn’t."
Freer joined a community steering committee that along with the Summit County Council, Valley Behavioral Health and Summit County Health Department has spent the last several months creating a survey to assess the community’s mental health and substance abuse needs.
The steering committee consists of: Robbie Beck, president of Robbie L. Beck Inc., Nora Buchanan, Latino affairs specialist with the Park City School District, Dean Evans, South Summit School District counselor, Shad Sorenson, South Summit School District superintendent, Mike Marsh, North Summit School District superintendent, Malena Stevens, victim advocate coordinator with the Park City Police Department, and Lynne Rutan, community advocate.
The survey was recently launched on the Health Department’s website. It is intended to "identify needs and not describe a problem," according to Richard Bullough, Health Department director.
"It’s a system analysis of what services are available and the delivery of those services," Bullough said. "I’m really excited and very curious to see what we find. I don’t know of another county in the state that has done an assessment like this. This is not your typical government survey because it is very much a community-driven survey."
The online questionnaire takes about 10 minutes to complete and will eventually be made available in the three school districts in Summit County and at various community locations. The questions reference accessibility of mental health services, treatment, follow-up and payment. It will be posted until June.
Officials are planning to use the information from the survey to formulate a strategic plan about how to better meet the community’s mental health and substance abuse needs. Many have argued that the county’s system is difficult to navigate.
"If we don’t have good responses, then this won’t work," Bullough said. "Some have said a few hundred responses, well I am hoping to get a few thousand. Everything we do from here on out will be driven by the survey and so it is really important for people to participate."
Last year, the County Council began the discussion with representatives from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Summit County attorney’s office and Valley Behavioral Health to begin discussing the gaps in the county’s mental health and substance abuse services.
A citizens group was also formed to connect residents who have been affected by mental illness through family members, friends or loved ones. The group, CONNECT, is organizing several events throughout the county in May to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month.
The survey was introduced to the Park City Sunrise Rotary Club and several community leaders on Thursday. Tomoko Schlag, a Park City resident and secretary of the Rotary Club, said an assessment is "much needed. "
Schlag said even though she has not personally had any experiences with mental illness her college-aged children have.
"Unfortunately they have experienced it among their peers and especially for the young people it’s important that they understand that there are no barriers to getting the help they need," Schlag said. "I think this survey is needed and clearly the focus on providing the services that would be needed as opposed to why and how is a much better launching off point for this discussion."
To view the survey, go to http://www.summitcountyhealth.org/ . For additional information about the needs assessment, contact Katie Mullaly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-333-1503. To become a member of CONNECT, contact Ed and Lynne Rutan at email@example.com.
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$1 million in CARES Act funding has been set aside for Summit County nonprofits, and the Park City Community Foundation is working to organize the fund and how to choose recipients. The goal is to start accepting applications Oct. 14.