St. Luke's Hospital Joins Mental Health Taskforce to Fight Suicide

Have you been told to smile or to just get over it when you've been feeling sad and hopeless? Although these comments may be well-meaning, they're not helpful when you have depression. Maybe you've felt ashamed or lazy and have criticized yourself. Depression is a serious medical condition, not something you can just will yourself to get over. The good news is that many effective treatments are available, and you can get help now.

The 2013 Community Health Assessment Plan indicated suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in WNC and the 11th leading cause of death in Polk County for 2006-2010. Unfortunately, this number is rising.

The Community Health Assessment concluded from feedback provided by Polk County residents the reason for not accessing mental health care when it was needed was lack of access or knowledge on how to access appropriate resources.
Polk County Law Enforcement-Mental Health Taskforce was initiated in 2012 and includes representatives from St. Luke's Hospital, Polk County law enforcement agencies, local magistrate, Smoky Mountain LME/MCO, Mobile Crisis, Family Preservation Services, Department of Social Services and a number of other mental health providers. These organizations focus on how to drive the mental health need in our community into the most appropriate level of care.

The Mental Health Taskforce has focused their time educating and informing providers in the area of the mental health resources as well as working collaboratively to ensure coordination of care for those known high-risk clients residing in our community. Their next steps will be providing community education to improve access to mental health care. Throughout the community, banners can be seen with mental health access phone numbers. There are also informative magnets being distributed throughout the county as well as flyers.

"Depression is a disorder that affects your thoughts, moods, feelings, behavior and even your physical health," explains Becky Brodar, RN, Community Outreach Coordinator for St. Luke's Hospital's Center of Behavioral Medicine. "People used to think it was 'all in your head' and that if you really tried, you could 'snap out of it.' But doctors now know that depression is not a weakness, and it's not something you can treat on your own. Depression is a medical disorder with a biological and chemical basis."
There are many causes of depression. Sometimes a stressful life event triggers depression. Other times depression seems to occur spontaneously with no identifiable specific cause. Depression is much more than grieving or a bout of the blues.

Depression may occur only once in a person's life. Often, however, it occurs as repeated episodes over a lifetime, with periods free of depression in between. Or it may be a chronic condition, requiring ongoing treatment over a lifetime.

"People of all ages and races suffer from depression," adds Brodar. "There is nothing to be ashamed about. There are all sorts of effective treatments today. People no longer have to suffer in silence. Medications are available that are generally safe and effective, even for the most severe depression. With proper treatment, most people with serious depression improve, often within weeks, and can return to normal daily activities."

There are many signs and symptoms to look for when diagnosing depression. Some of these include: loss of interest in normal daily activities; depressed mood; sleep disturbances; impaired thinking or concentration; changes in weight; agitation; fatigue or slowing of body movements; low self-esteem and thoughts of death.

There's no single known cause for depression. The illness often runs in families. Experts believe a genetic vulnerability combined with environmental factors, such as stress or physical illness, may trigger an imbalance in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, resulting in depression. Imbalances in three neurotransmitters - serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine - seem to be linked to depression.

Factors that contribute to depression include: heredity, stress, medications, illnesses, personality, hormones, and alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse.

"A common question that I often hear is 'when should I seek medical advice or intervention?'" says Brodar. "If you show little interest in once-enjoyable activities, if you feel sad, helpless, tired or worthless, and if your eating and sleeping habits have changed greatly, see your doctor to determine if you have depression. If you know someone who exhibits the characteristics of depression, encourage him or her to seek professional help."

The St. Luke's Hospital Center of Behavioral Medicine is a secured inpatient facility serving adults age 55 and older. The 10-bed Unit specializes in the diagnoses and treatment of diseases such as depression, anxiety and panic disorders, Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias, Parkinson's, psychosis, bipolar and mood disorders and Schizophrenia. Referrals are accepted from physicians, social services, family, friends, community providers, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, or self-referral. Staff is available for free in-home assessments to determine the appropriate level of care.

If you or a loved one are suffering from depression, you can call Becky Brodar for a free depression screening at (828) 894-3525 ext. 3333.

Smoky Mountain LME/MCO works with a network of providers to ensure that a full range of mental health, substance abuse, and intellectual/developmental disability services and supports are available for individuals and families in our communities. The Smoky Access to Care number that is pictured on the banner, 1-800-849-6127, is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. Phones are answered by trained professionals who will listen, do an initial screening, and help link to services in your area.

Caring for our community is another way St. Luke's Hospital continues to provide exceptional care, close to home.

Pictured: Members of the Mental Health Taskforce gather at one of the banners now found throughout Polk County: Jeff Arrowood, Tryon Chief of Police; Becky Brodar, St. Luke's Hospital Center of Behavioral Medicine; Terri Palmer, Direct Care; Ken Shull, St. Luke's Hospital CEO; Deena Dimsdale, St. Luke's Hospital Discharge Planner; B.J. Bayne, Polk Co. Sheriff Dept.; Chris Beddingfield, Columbus Chief of Police