County should heed family’s plea to expand local mental health services
Summit County is growing and along with it the need for additional mental health services. So far, though, the patchy network of services offered by local providers has not been able to keep up. However, thanks to a handful of courageous local families who have openly shared their struggles to find care for loved ones, several Summit County agencies are now working to define local needs and find ways to meet them.
Three years ago a Park City mom turned her grief from losing her son to a heroin overdose into a clarion call for drug awareness. Local physicians and law enforcement personnel confirmed her warnings that heroin use was on the rise among Summit and Wasatch County youth. According to one emergency room physician, doctors were seeing one to two drug overdoses a night during their weekend shifts.
In that same year, a well-loved Park City aerial skier, who had just recently earned an Olympic medal, succumbed to depression and committed suicide. His family chose to honor his memory by establishing a foundation to spread the word about suicide prevention.
Since then this newspaper has covered a steady stream of crises related to mental health issues including domestic violence, child abuse and suicides. In the spring of 2014 local sheriff’s deputies responded to three separate suicides in rapid succession. According to a behavioral health professional, the deaths — involving a high school student, a man and a woman — were indicative of the state’s rising suicide rate.
Everyone, it seems, including staff at the county health department and attorneys at the Summit County Justice Center, agree the availability of local mental health services — from identifying those with mental health issues to providing treatment and recovery programs — is inadequate.
Unfortunately, the alternative for many of those suffering from addiction, depression or a host of other issues is jail. And, for local taxpayers that is a costly and ineffective way to sidestep the real problems.
A better investment would be to augment existing remedial services with proactive programs. The county currently contracts with Valley Behavioral Services, spending about $160,000 annually, mostly for court-ordered services. But preliminary inquiries suggest that families are hoping for help before the courts become involved.
Summit County is not alone in seeking better solutions to meeting mental health care needs. New state and federal mandates are calling for changes to reduce prison populations. They include lighter sentences for nonviolent offenses and placing more emphasis on treatment.
That’s better for the whole community. Money spent on incarcerating repeat offenders could instead be spent on treating the underlying causes of their problems.
A work group of concerned citizens will meet again soon. Anyone who has input on the issue is welcome to call the Summit County Health Department. In the meantime, let’s not put this issue on hold any longer. The next suicide victim could very well be someone we could have helped.
A reader calls upon the women of Utah to stand up and make their voices heard.