Community Organization Model Tackles Veterans’ Mental Health Issues

February 10, 2019

A group of community providers around Charlotte, North Carolina, joined to create a special workgroup to ensure that veterans have the best possible support to lead healthy lives.

Too often, veterans and service members choose to end their lives by suicide. In fact, each day an average of 25 veterans commit suicide and even more attempt to end their lives, according to the National Veteran’s Federation. Many others struggle from the effects of living with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or substance use disorder. Healthcare executives can help to change these dynamics in two important ways:

  •  Take action to educate key community stakeholders about suicide, to raise awareness, and to reduce the stigmas around mental health.

  •  Increase access to behavioral healthcare by focusing on ways to connect people to the services they need.

To truly support veterans, we must care for their mental health as much as their physical health. Yet many veterans don’t reach out for mental health services when they need them most. Often, they feel uncomfortable seeking help because there is a very real stigma around mental health concerns. In many cases, veterans are burdened by unrealistic expectations about being strong. They would rather “power through” any pain they experience, whether physical or emotional.

As health professionals, we know how crucial it is to remove that stigma. That’s why a group of community providers around Charlotte, North Carolina, recently joined to create the Service Member Veteran Family (SMVF) Suicide Prevention Workgroup. It is focused on one common goal: ensuring our veterans have the best possible support to lead healthy lives.

The SMVF Suicide Prevention Workgroup's vision is for all who have served to thrive, know they belong, and know where to reach out to find help and hope rather than choosing suicide. Participating healthcare organizations assist with the Whole Health Model, aimed at ensuring healthcare providers know how to care for individuals mentally and socially, as well as physically. Workgroup members have conducted mental health awareness events, Mental Health First Aid training and crisis intervention training for service providers and local communities. Through networking opportunities, they are deepening inter-agency relationships and strengthening their knowledge of all the supplemental community services available. 

Funded by a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant, the group is finding better ways to:

  • Identify veterans who could benefit from mental and behavioral health services;

  • Help them understand what services are available;

  • Get them registered for those services; and

  • Remain connected with them over time to ensure they have access to the services they need to be successful

Related: Opinion: Health Execs Take a Community-Based Approach to Mental Health

The group began by developing a Sequential Intercept Crisis Map and action plan to identify community resources available to help. A Sequential Intercept Crisis Map is meant to be a living document. Its purpose is not only to outline the assistance process, but also to address crisis needs within the community by “connecting the dots” between existing and growing resources.

Fortunately, there are lots of resources to draw from-even among members of the workgroup itself, which includes the VA, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Atrium Health, Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, the North Carolina National Guard, the 145th Air Wing Air National Guard, the American Red Cross, Veterans Bridge Home, Family Preservation Services, Stop Solider Suicide, Novant Health, the DoD-Medical Command, the Mecklenburg County Veterans Services Office, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Habitat for Humanity, HUGS (Healing and Understanding of Grief from Suicide), and Visionary Physical Therapy and Wellness.

Related: Veteran Access to Mental Health Expands Under Telepsychiatry

Over the next several months the workgroup will meet to tackle their action items, which are aligned with the North Carolina Suicide Prevention Plan and the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. These action items aim to reduce suicide by:

  • Empowering individuals, families and communities;

  • Identifying, promoting, and supporting clinical and community preventive services;

  • Promoting treatment and support services; and

  • Effectively using surveys, research and evaluation options to help inform suicide prevention programs.

While the community-based approach taken by the SMVF Suicide Prevention Workgroup is an effective way to support veterans locally, it’s the kind of effort that needs to happen in more communities throughout the nation. That’s why the ultimate goal of the team is to build a program that can be replicated in communities across the country, providing intervention and services on a broader scale.  

With suicide as a leading cause of death in our country, it’s more important than ever to put innovative prevention programs in place. We must encourage people to seek treatment for their mental health just as they do for their physical health. Efforts such as those of the SMVF Suicide Prevention Workgroup stand to make a positive and significant impact by increasing access to and awareness of the services available to veterans-or anyone-who could benefit from supportive care for their mental health.

Emily Bridge is director, community engagement, Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. Shadale Jacobs is access coordinator manager and veterans point of contact Cardinal Innovations Healthcare.