“Welcome to the Wild West of mental health care.” That’s how Stephanie,* a 40-something professional and Jackson Hole, Wyoming native, described the day she checked into the emergency department at St. John’s Medical Center a few years ago. She has struggled with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, with some issues dating back to her teens. Her constellation of mental health challenges has meant several bouts of crippling depression, despite medication and therapy.
At the time, she was severely depressed and suicidal. She didn’t feel safe to be alone, so she called a friend to take her to the hospital. Because there is no other crisis facility in the valley for mental health patients, the hospital was Stephanie’s only option. And though the ER staff kept her from harming herself, the experience was less than optimal.
Having grown up in the valley, Stephanie is not new to seeking mental health care from local providers. An intelligent, proactive woman, she is skilled at gleaning the best of what’s available in Jackson Hole. She is also all too familiar with the ramifications of a community in which physical health is exalted and mental health too often neglected until people reach a crisis.
When Stephanie was a teenager in the 1980s, the first time she sought mental health care was from her family doctor. No licensed psychiatrists were practicing in the valley at the time, so general practitioners were often patients’ first option for mental health care. That situation hasn’t changed much, and it’s not exclusive to Jackson. According to the Institute for Behavioral Health Integration, as many as 70 percent of all visits to primary care are the result of psychosocial issues.
Stephanie said she was lucky to have a doctor who understood the seriousness of her symptoms. “Had I not had that I would not be alive today,” she said.
While primary care providers play a crucial role in helping patients with mental health issues—whether in the ER or the doctor’s office—they only have so much expertise. A recent St. John’s Hospital Foundation study found that Jackson is in dire need of psychiatrists, with only two practicing in the valley. The search is on for ways to serve this need.
Read more on PlanetJH.com.