Making a Difference:

United Way funds help provide mental health treatment to those who can't afford it

In her fight to live a normal life despite a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, one Craig resident turned from a medical solution to a mental solution.

And her life hasn't been the same since.

In the 12 years since this woman, who asked to remain anonymous, has been a patient at Craig Mental Health, she's overcome her inability to deal with daily living, improved her coping skills and self-esteem and found the courage to escape a bad relationship.

"The whole gamut of things that could've gone wrong went wrong," she said of a time in her life that pushed her to the edge.

So she turned from her family doctor to Craig Mental Health for help.

"I was having such problems in my life that I needed counseling," she said.

Through therapy and a new course of medications, her life is back on track.

She's now finished with intensive therapy and checks in with mental health professionals once or twice a month to ensure she's not backsliding.

"This last year has been the best year of my life," she said. "The difference in my life is phenomenal. I can't even tell you enough about it."

The woman is one of few low-income patients who remains on the patient roster following state budget cuts, something that mental health facilities did not escape from unscathed.

"With all the state budget cuts, mental health has gotten smashed," Craig Mental Health Clinical Program Coordina-tor Gina Golden said. "We can't afford to treat the number of clients we used to and we can't give away services for free like we used to."

The business tries to limit the number of clients it offers free treatment to no more than seven at one time, compared to upwards of 30 before budget cuts. Many clients get low-cost care but that service has also suffered.

The clinic is able to continue offering free and low-cost service, in large part, because of local funding support -- a large portion of which comes from Moffat County United Way. In 2003, United Way contributed $15,000 to Craig Mental Health.

Residents who benefit from the services provided encourage people to continue donating to the United Way.

"Definitely contribute," one woman said. "It helps so many people in so many ways."

And the need for funding has never been greater.

"We're always on the quest to get more money from the community," Golden said. "It's an uphill battle. Local funding is extremely necessary -- it's vital."

Craig Mental Health provides both mental health and substance abuse treatment services for individuals, groups, families and couples. It offers psychiatric services and anger management counseling as well as court-ordered DUI education and therapy.

Students have access to an intensive, rewards-based, in-school counseling program that involves social services, teachers and family members.

"We do a little bit of everything," Golden said. "We stay pretty busy over here."

Craig Mental Health generally has 250 to 300 open cases at a time supported by a clinical staff of six.

In addition to their 40-plus hour work weeks, those staff members rotate the responsibility of providing 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week, on-call emergency service.

That service is vast and includes responding for suicide assessments or being there for people who are stressed, angry, have problems with their medication or are suffering from panic attack.

The professionals at Craig Mental Health respond to approximately 300 emergency calls a year.

"We make due," Golden said. "We manage to provide quality service with the limited staff we have. We're very busy."

Craig Mental Health's benefit to the community is difficult to measure because, in most cases, it is proactive instead of reactive, but it is far reaching.

"We deal with kids through adults and the geriatric population," Golden said. "We deal with everything from grief to chronic mental illness."

The ongoing treatment prevents many clients from ending up in a hospital, which is a savings to taxpayers, who foot the bill for emergency care when a patient is unable to pay.

"We help keep people stable so they can function in a community," Golden said. "When we see them, the rest of the community doesn't have to deal with someone who has a mental illness that isn't being treated."

Non-treatment can lead to suicide, illegal actions or a person who is unable to function or work.

"If someone needs to be in treatment and they're not getting it because they can't afford it, we'll see them for the first time in an emergency situation," Golden said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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