SHERIDAN — Regional health professionals gathered Tuesday to discuss mental health care needs in Sheridan.
The discussion centered on the mental health care needs of veterans in the community, as well as their families.
Vivianne Tran, with the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said that Sheridan has both common things to deal with and more local issues.
“We have unique challenges, some are the same, some are different,” Tran said.
One of the issues the group discussed was getting health care to veterans once they leave the VA.
“They don’t get the support they need once they leave,” Tran said.
But what is unclear is whether the veterans leaving the VA don’t know about what’s available to them in the community, or if they’re reluctant to search out those resources for some reason.
Discussion members didn’t know what causes the issue, but presumed it’s a type of disconnect between veterans dealing with mental health issues and their non-military peers.
“Lots of veterans really feel like they can’t connect with a civilian,” Tran said.
Lee Ingalls, a nurse manager for home-based primary care at the VA, said despite its challenges, Sheridan is blessed by having mental health care available for veterans through the VA. He said, comparatively, the rest of Sheridan is lacking good mental health care compared to what the VA offers.
“We’re really blessed for veterans in Sheridan because we have mental health services,” Ingalls said.
Some veterans with mental health issues don’t seek out help at first. Tran said it’s common for some veterans to travel the country in seclusion because their social interactions don’t always go well. But eventually they tend to settle.
Mental health professional Deb Stevens said this is because people get older and everyone needs health care.
She gave an example of a veteran who wandered the country and eventually settled with his backpack, full of his life’s possessions, under a bridge. This was comfortable to him, whereas social settings weren’t always.
But when veterans get older and their needs changed, many seek help.
“(They)’re at an age and mental status where you can’t do it anymore,” Stevens said.
Meeting members also discussed care of mentally ill patients who have been hospitalized due to a concern that they will cause serious bodily harm to themselves or others. These patients are forcibly hospitalized under a 72-hour hold, as allowed by Wyoming statute. The holds are often called Title 25 holds.
Meeting attendees discussed was how to deal with mental health patients who are being held because they are abusing substances.
Some felt there should be a way to keep these people for their own safety, as further substance use would possibly put them back in the same mental state. But it’s unlikely anything will happen.
“People have the right to self neglect,” Ingalls said, explaining how the law works.
Title 25 holds simply don’t apply to substance abuse.
One of the biggest problems facing all of the mental health groups is recruiting and retaining qualified staff. There is a simply a shortage of qualified staff in Wyoming, and little in the way of a solution was discussed.
Members also discussed treating patients so that their children don’t start using illegal substances.
They referred to substance abuse as a cycle, and intervention and education could be used to make sure patients’ children don’t take up their parents’ habits.
“If you don’t break that cycle you’re probably doomed to repeat it,” said Chris Rudd, with VA Veterans Outreach.