Mental Health Awareness Month event to explore community’s progress in addressing gaps in the system | ParkRecord.com

Mental Health Awareness Month event to explore community’s progress in addressing gaps in the system

CONNECT Summit County will host two discussions over the next week to explore the community's progress in addressing mental health and substance abuse.

When Ed and Lynne Rutan decided to share their experiences nearly two years ago about navigating the county's mental health and substance abuse system with their son, the disclosure stemmed from a desire to engage the community and those struggling with the same system.

The Rutans' willingness to divulge the intimate details of their son's diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder kicked off a community-wide effort to begin tackling the county's gaps in mental health services. From those initial conversations, CONNECT Summit County was formed and, eventually, Summit County's Mental Wellness Alliance. The organizations now work with mental health issues in the county, including education and providing assistance.

Community meetings and open houses kept the conversations going as the Health Department created an implementation plan about how to better meet the community's needs. The Summit County Council adopted the Summit County Mental Wellness Strategic Plan in November and contributed funds toward the implementation of the plan as part of the 2018 budget.

As CONNECT Summit County hosts a series of events and discussions to recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, the organization has scheduled two panel discussions to address the progress that has been made in the county to lessen the struggle of those battling mental health and substance abuse issues.

"I'm sort of an optimistic person and I would have hoped that we would be somewhere where we are," said Ed Rutan, one of the founding members and board president of CONNECT. "I think the key here is that this was a concern that was just below the surface. People were worried about it, but they were uneasy talking about it. Once the ice was broken and people got to the point where they felt comfortable talking about it, there was all this energy that has led to a lot of action being taken."

The discussions, titled "How Are We Doing on Mental Health and Substance Abuse," will explore the programs that have been implemented within the past couple years to help reduce the gap's in the county's health system. The events are scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 10, at the Kamas Valley branch of the Summit County Library, and at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 15, at the Jim Santy Auditorium. The discussion will allow time for audience comments.

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"I think we have made incredible progress in terms of making this a public issue," Rutan said. "Last April was the first time that there was a community discussion as opposed to individual discussions. I view that meeting as a watershed of sorts and it's that kind of discussion that we need to be continuing. The community has to stay engaged."

The theme for CONNECT's Mental Health Awareness Month is reducing the stigma surrounding the conversation, according to Lynne Rutan. She added, "Stigma free, the way it should be."

She said the education programs that have been implemented and the discussions help reduce the stigma. But, she said, it is still present.

"Talking about these things is essential to moving forward," she said. "Under the surface there are programs coming in, but they are not at fruition yet and we are not where we want to be. The upswing has been tremendous, though.

"On a personal level, our son has a chronic brain disease that we will have to deal with his entire life and we know that," she said.

Ollie Wilder, Park City Community Foundation community impact director, who will serve as the events' moderator, said he became involved in the effort after the deaths of two Park City High School students in 2016. Wilder said the events provide an important opportunity for the community to have a discussion about the efforts that have been undertaken to improve the situation in the county. He praised the Health Department, county, Park City and school districts for contributing to the effort and recognizing that problems exist within the community.

"I'm proud of the fact that this community rose to the occasion even though this is not easy and this is not quick," he said. "I think it is helpful from time to time to have the opportunity to check in and see: How are we doing, what needs more attention and what projects are moving forward?"

For more information about CONNECT Summit County's events throughout the month of May, go to https://connectsummitcounty.org/.