Karen Wolk Feinstein of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation suggested in a Feb. 3 Forum article "Improving Mental Health Care" that primary care offices and emergency departments screen for mental health problems. I believe that every medical point of contact should be attuned to the mental status of patients and prepared to provide appropriate assistance and referrals.
As a result of federal funding for integrative health care, community health centers are better equipped than private practitioners to offer onsite behavioral health screening and care. Community mental health agencies offer screening for hypertension and diabetes, ailments that cause their clients to die an average of 25 years sooner than the general population. In 10 years as a grant consultant for these projects, and as a grant reviewer for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, I've seen improved quality of care that private primary care practices should emulate.
However, my personal experience tells me that the greatest barrier to treatment, not mentioned by Ms. Feinstein, is the stigma associated with admitting a mental health problem. In Pittsburgh, a close-knit town built on relationships, people fear the impact of a diagnosis on their lives and jobs. Providers seem unaware that people can and do recover. Foundation funding would be well spent on anti-stigma programs encouraging people to openly discuss their mental health. Screening will not prevent the next tragedy if individuals feel too isolated to speak up.
I want to share the message that recovery is real and possible.
KATHERINE F.H. HEART
Heart Resources, LLC