In July 2020 CONNECT Summit County and YWCA Utah hosted a virtual screening of BEDLAM: A Documentary as well as a panel discussion, Policing Mental Health. From the showing of this film and the panel discussion, we had a number of insightful questions come in from our audience.

To answer these questions, we enrolled local expert, David Eldredge, LCSW. He is the Director of Community Crisis Intervention and Support Services at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute.

Question 1: I have mental health issues and am lucky to have both a psychiatrist (MD) and therapist. My insurance will not cover my Dr., but luckily I can afford to pay out of pocket. Why is it so hard to get our elected leaders to agree that Mental Illness is a REAL illness? Is it because they see how big and complicated the problem is and don’t want to put money towards it?

Answer: This is a very complex issue with multiple barriers ultimately impacting access to needed and deserved behavioral health services. It is a systemic issue that is perpetuated by the stigma attached to mental illness. The stigma has further led to payers both public and private, lacking parity in healthcare. Politically, we are challenged as oftentimes special interest groups drive social policy. Candidly, we lack special interest groups to drive needed legislation for equal treatment options for mental health. Fortunately, in Utah we do have two individuals, and others, Representative Steve Eliason and Senator Dan Thatcher who work tirelessly advocating for behavioral health services. They have made great strides for Utah’s residents, particularly if you reference HB32. We are also seeing an increase in significant philanthropic contributions from prominent folks in our communities including the Millers and Huntsmans. Both families have been open about their own families’ struggles with mental health needs, which is helping reduce stigma as well as matching contributions to further mental health services in Utah.

Question 2: BEDLAM made it very clear that our prisons have become our Nation’s mental health facilities. What can I do, personally, to advocate for the creation of long term Mental Health Treatment Facilities in this Nation?

Answer: The bottom line on what individuals can do is continue to educate themselves and make informed decisions in voting, advocating, and communicating with key stakeholders such as legislatures and representatives.  In addition, the Utah Department of Health, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health has many opportunities for residents to engage in workgroups to make an impact on social policy.  An additional organization that has a significant impact on policy is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). They are always looking for individuals to support their mission, vision, and values.  

Question 3: Bedlam also showed how “burnout” of mental health practitioners is an issue that needs to be addressed. What services are available to these folks on the frontline for their own mental health needs? What is being done to recruit doctors, therapists, social workers to work with the mentally ill?

Answer: Mental health practitioners experience vicarious trauma on a daily basis as they are serving individuals in need. This extends to what is often called “frontline” workers such as emergency responders. With COVID-19, an increased burden has been placed on all people and in particular health care workers and frontline workers.  There has been a lot of collaboration across multiple organizations both locally and nationally to increase layers of support for our healthcare and frontline workers. More specifically, HB32 (previously referenced) has committed legislative dollars to develop and implement all frontline and healthcare workers with access to convenient, anonymous, crisis response, support, and resource referrals 24/7/365 at no cost to them. Most healthcare organizations are also highly involved in providing their employees with consistent and frequent psychological first aid.  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) has some helpful information on Psychological First Aid. To assist in recruitment and retention, The Utah Behavioral Health Workforce Reinvestment Initiative went live as of the end of September 2020. This program awards funds to professionals to repay education loans, in exchange for serving in a publicly funded program in the state of Utah.

 Question 4: I know that if you have a friend you suspect is suicidal, you should tell a school counselor if you are a kid or the SafeUT app, or seek other resources, but I also know that if they are in immediate danger, you should call 911. I am wondering what happens then, and if the police come to deal with the situation. Is it the best option for our communities and the people who need help in these situations?

Answer: Utah has developed a behavioral health crisis response system with the intent of providing Utah residents across the state with crisis services when, where, and how they need them. There is a Utah Statewide Crisis Line that is staffed 24/7/365 by trained professionals most of whom are licensed mental health therapists 1-800-273-8255. The Utah Statewide Crisis Line acts as dispatch for behavioral health crisis response services. Linked is Utah’s Community Crisis Intervention and Support Services providing more detailed information. All services are at no cost to the recipient. The CrisisLine and 911 dispatch are increasingly collaborating to determine the most appropriate resource to dispatch to those in need. Oftentimes, police and mobile crisis outreach teams co-respond and work very closely together. Utah is currently engaged in working towards implementing behavioral health crisis care in alignment with SAMHSA National Guidelines for Mental Health Crisis Care. Linked is the best practice Toolkit.

Question 5: How well is Utah doing when it comes to Mental Health resources in general. Bad? Good? Average?

Answer: Utah has both strengths and opportunities. If you reference The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute’s analysis of Utah’s Mental Health System there is much to gain. The analysis indicates the following Key Points:  

  • The demand for mental health care in Utah is increasing
  • Utah’s shortage of mental health providers could worsen over time
  • Funding for Utah’s public mental health system is bifurcated across different systems, making it difficult to consistently deliver coordinated care, and commercial health insurance coverage of mental health services is often limited, which can result in high out-of-pocket costs.  

For more information on the analysis, you can read the full report here

Question 6: How about teens? Are we doing enough to help teens with mental health? Specifically with police but also in general too.

Answer: There are a couple of sources that are closely evaluating mental health services for our children and teens. As indicated above, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute has some excellent information that is being utilized by policymakers, healthcare organizations, and providers to evaluate and improve service provision specific to our pediatric population. The Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey is also being utilized. This is part of the “Utah Prevention Needs Assessment Survey” that is conducted as part of the SHARP Statewide Survey. The survey is administered every two years, to students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 in most public and certain charter school districts across Utah. The survey was designed to assess adolescent substance use, anti-social behavior, and the risk and protective factors that predict these adolescent problem behaviors.” As suicide is the leading cause of death among children/adolescents in our community, we must do more! There are many, many stakeholders involved in this plea, including Communities That Care in Summit County.

More about Dave Eldredge

Dave is a 6th generation resident of Salt Lake County and loves Utah. He spent his youth with his beloved grandfather learning to farm wheat and alfalfa along the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains and in rural Idaho. To further contribute to the Utah communities, he began volunteering in various social service capacities at a young age and found a deep appreciation and honor in advocating for those in need.  

To further his knowledge, skills, and abilities, Dave received his Bachelor of Sciences in Sociology, Psychology, and Criminology Certification from the University of Utah. He then received his Master of Social Work from Brigham Young University.  

Dave has been in healthcare for over 26 years, working extensively with adults and pediatrics in both public and private systems of care. He has significant clinical, healthcare organizational leadership, and social policy experience. Most recently he has been engaged in the coordinated efforts in developing Utah’s behavioral health crisis response system that is aligned with National Guidelines for Behavioral Health Crisis Care established by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  

Dave previously worked on strategic initiatives with Population Health, Patient-Centered Medical Home and Team-Based Care leading to higher rates of quality, lower rates of acute care, and lower cost. He also spent a significant amount of time serving individuals living with serious and persistent mental illness promoting a person-centered and recovery-based model of care.  

Dave enjoys leading people, teams, and organizations. In his free time, he enjoys time with family, friends, Dave enjoys leading people, teams, and organizations. In his free time, he enjoys cooking, the outdoors, mountain biking, road cycling, and motocross, as well as spending time with family and friends. 

A huge thank you for taking the time to assist us in answering these questions and ensuring that we support our community members!