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Survey guides service

Two minutes of your time could link someone struggling with mental illness to the help they need. A mental health survey currently circulating through Douglas County has the power to improve the connection between mental health providers and thos...

Two minutes of your time could link someone struggling with mental illness to the help they need.

A mental health survey currently circulating through Douglas County has the power to improve the connection between mental health providers and those they serve.

Basically, the survey is identifying where people are getting mental health services and how they are accessing them, according to Dave Longsdorf, supervisor of mental health for the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services.

"We're trying to figure out where people in Douglas County would start looking," for services, said county Public Health Nurse Peggy Nichols, and improve that access.

"I think we'll find people won't know where to go," said Rev. Barb Certa-Werner, executive director of Harbor House Crisis Shelter in Superior.

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Sometimes, the Harbor House director said, she is not even sure where to turn to provide help for clients.

"That's a problem," Certa-Werner said.

Nichols stressed this survey is for everyone, whether they know someone struggling with mental illness or not.

"It's sort of like the Census," Nichols said. "Every bit of data counts."

Certa-Werner said that taking the two minutes to fill out a survey is vitally important "so we can improve, grow and make things better for people.

"We can't improve on anything if we have no baseline to go by," she said.

The survey was launched as part of the county's Community Health Improvement Program, a 10-year plan targeting specific health concerns in Douglas County - mental health and mental disorders; overweight, obesity and lack of physical activity; and alcohol, tobacco and other substance use and abuse. Survey creators hope it will help highlight unmet need in the area.

"Right now there's a real shortage, especially of psychiatric care," Longsdorf said. There are no psychiatrists available in Superior, except one child psychiatrist who is available one day a week, and most of the Duluth psychiatrists are not accepting new patients.

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"Our local providers are getting very creative to meet the demand," he said, including using Advanced Practical Nurses with prescriptive powers and tele-psychiatry.

But mental health has always been an area where the amount of unmet need is unknown, Longsdorf said. This survey could put some hard numbers to that.

It will also take a local snapshot of perceptions that are out there, Nichols said.

"There's still such a stigma attached to mental illness," she said.

The survey may get people talking about mental illness, Certa-Werner said.

"It is an everyday thing for people to deal with," she said. "It isn't a bad thing; it just is."

Despite all the scrutiny on health care following the passing of national health care reform legislation, Nichols said, mental health continues to take a back seat. Too often insurance companies will pay to take someone's appendix out, she said, but not for their depression medication.

"There's a stigma that if you need help something is really wrong with you rather than a health situation you need to take care of," Certa-Werner said.

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Surveys are available at the Douglas County Health and Human Services Department, the United Way of Superior-Douglas County office in Superior, public libraries in Superior, Solon Springs and Lake Nebagamon and many area churches. They are completely confidential. To date, a few hundred of the 3,000 surveys printed have been returned. Area residents have until April 30 to fill out and return surveys.

"We're all very curious to see what the results of the survey are," Nichols said.

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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