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Support group fighting to bridge the gap in mental health resources in small towns

Posted at 12:29 PM, Aug 21, 2020

Finding mental health resources in a small town can be a challenge, and in a time when more people are isolated inside their homes, that support is more important than ever before.

“I’m 28 years old. I deal with depression. I have bipolar disorder, I have epilepsy, I’m schizophrenic, and I have multiple personalities,” said Sam, a father who meets with a group from the Mental Health Center in Hagerstowneach week to help him get his symptoms under control.

Sam is one of several adults struggling with mental health disorders who come from all over a rural Maryland county to heal as a group.

“We are kind of a beacon of light for others who need help,” said Tamara Warfield, the Adult Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program manager.

That help is offering a support system in places where people are geographically isolated, making their symptoms even tougher to deal with.

“It’s hard getting the help that you need when you have mental health issues,” said Sam. “If it wasn’t for this group, I wouldn’t be out in the community. I would be home, not doing anything.”

Finding connection is not only key to helping these men and women overcome their mental health symptoms, but it’s also key to overcoming the stigma they face every day—a stigma that’s often harsher in rural communities.

“We want to be treated like everybody else, not like we’re stupid or special,” said Sam. “We just want to be treated like a regular person—to go out and communicate with people, make friends with people.”

“We help folks that have cancer or any type of physical disorder, so why shouldn’t we reach out to those who have a mental illness? It’s no different,” said Warfield.

Health care workers in smaller communities already deal with fewer resources. But for mental health treatment, it’s even tougher. There is a shortage of mental health care workers in rural communities, fewer transportation options to get to services, and more widespread poverty.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said these factors combined contribute to the suicide rate being nearly twice as high in the most rural counties compared to urban areas.

“If you don’t have those basic needs like housing food, and finances, you’re not going to be able to care for your mental health. You’re just trying to survive to get to the next day,” said Warfield.

Warfield and her team at the Mental Health Center are doing everything they can to fight that statistic by providing transportation to services and doing telehealth visits during the pandemic. However, there's always the fear they won’t be enough.

“I’ve seen so many folks come in who have hit rock bottom,” said Warfield. “They haven’t had services in so long their symptoms are taking over and they can barely function.”

To those Warfield does see, her help is not just life-saving, it’s life-starting.

“I never finished school because of my mental health issues, but right now I’m working on getting my GED, so that I can be a better person for my kids," Sam said. "And that’s one of my big goals is being a better person for my kids, for my family, and they’re helping me with that. They’re helping me be a better person."

If you'd like resources to help improve your mental health, click HERE.