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Uprooting Behavioral Health Stigma: SeMRHI Opens a Support Services Center

  December 03, 2018

Sitting down with a counselor or therapist to discuss your thoughts, feelings, and issues is still taboo in many families, churches, and workplaces. Yet, one out of every six adults will experience depression at some time in their life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) depression affects about 16 million American adults every year. Family dynamics, workplace conflicts, financial stress, and grief are just a few circumstances that can trigger depression, anxiety, or other conditions. Although these circumstances often negatively impact an individual’s mental health, many people forego seeking the help they need.

Some of the stigma surrounding behavioral health services is deeply rooted in how we were raised. Many of our parents and grandparents never spoke with a counselor about issues in their life. In many instances, they did not have time or money for counseling because they were focused on putting food on the table for their families.

Making behavioral health accessible to all
Fortunately, we live in a much different time now, and seeing a counselor is now convenient and affordable. The Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. or SeMRHI has expanded its behavioral health services through the Support Services Center located at its Kaye Ray Medical Complex on Old Airport Road. The Support Services Center provides behavioral health services, vision services, and a drive-thru pharmacy. “Our goal was to design a facility where patients could come in and speak to a counselor just like they would for a regular doctor’s visit, said Dr. Dyse.”

Thousands of community health centers around the nation are integrating behavioral health into the primary care setting. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) separate physical and behavioral health systems can lead to fragmented care delivery, poor health outcomes, higher healthcare cost, and duplication of services. “We really want to meet the bulk of our patients’ medical needs, so we strive to provide a variety of services within our network of community health centers,” said Dr. Dyse.

Taking care of children and adults
SeMRHI initially began delivering behavioral health services in the school setting to students within the Hattiesburg Public School District through their School Based Health Program. SeMRHI’s School Based Health Program is a partnership with the Covington County School District, Forrest County School District, Forrest County Agricultural High School, Hattiesburg Public School District, Perry County School District, and Petal School District to ensure all students have access to quality healthcare at no cost to parents. With an emphasis on preventive healthcare, SeMRHI provides head-to-toe physical assessments, body mass index screenings (height and weight), blood pressure screenings, vision and hearing screenings, and developmental and behavioral health screenings. SeMRHI providers can also prescribe and manage medications for conditions such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), anxiety, depression, etc.

The organization has recently expanded its behavioral health program to include treatment for adults including substance use. Dr. Dyse said that many rural communities are now facing growing rates of opioid use, which means we must work to improve access to substance use treatment. The organization has a large service area with clinics in eight cities across the Pine Belt, including New Augusta, Seminary, Sumrall, Lumberton, Beaumont, Brooklyn, and Picayune. “As a network of health centers, our job is to stay connected to our communities so we understand what services they need most,” said Will Harvey, Outreach Marketing Coordinator. “One of our biggest challenges is alleviating the uneasiness and fear that some patients have about counseling. There is a significant amount of mistrust in some communities about these types of services.”

When should I consider seeking help from a counselor?
Are you having trouble doing the things you like to do or need to do because of how you feel —like going to school, work, or hanging out with friends? Are you having more rough days than good days? Have you been feeling down for a while?

If the answer is yes to these questions, then it is important that you talk to someone about what you are experiencing. There is nothing wrong with seeking help from a professional counselor for life circumstances that we all encounter. Everyone goes through tough times, but if negative thoughts and emotions persist, then it could be indicative of a deeper issue.

What causes depression?
While the exact cause of depression is unknown, there may be some factors that contribute to it. Everyone is different, but depression may be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. The following factors may increase the likelihood of a person becoming depressed.
•    Having blood relatives with a history of depression
•    Experiencing a traumatic or stressful event: physical abuse, the death of a loved one, or divorce
•    Going through a major life change, even if it was planned
•    Having a medical problem, such as cancer, stroke, or chronic pain
•    Taking certain prescriptions
•    Using alcohol or drugs

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

What is anxiety?
For most of us anxiety, worry, uneasiness, or dread regarding an anticipated event — is a normal reaction to stress and a natural human emotion. However, an anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that can include an almost-constant feeling of excessive and difficult-to-control anxiety and worry that negatively impacts a person’s life. Sometimes, anxiety can manifest itself through panic attacks as a type of fear response to real or perceived threats in a person’s environment.

What treatments are available?
Many people benefit from psychotherapy — also called counseling. Most counseling lasts for a short time and focuses on thoughts‚ feelings‚ and issues that are happening in your life now. In some cases‚ understanding your past can help and finding ways to address what is happening in your life now can help you cope and prepare you for challenges in the future. With counseling, you’ll work with your provider to learn skills to help you cope with life, change behaviors that are causing problems‚ and find solutions. There is no reason to feel shy or embarrassed about talking openly and honestly about your feelings and concerns. Getting better largely hinges on your ability to be transparent with your counselor about your life. Some common goals of counseling sessions include the following:
•    Quitting smoking
•    Stopping drug or alcohol use
•    Overcoming fears or insecurities
•    Identifying triggers and creating a plan to deal with them
•    Making sense of past painful events
•    Having better relationships with family and friends

Many people also find that taking prescribed medications can greatly help improve their mood and coping skills as it relates to a variety of conditions. There are numerous prescriptions available and your doctor can help find one that is right for you. Sometimes, it takes several tries to find the best medication and the right dose for you, so it is important to be patient. When taking these medications‚ it is important to follow the instructions on how much to take. Some people start to feel better a few days after starting the medication‚ but it can take up to four weeks to feel the most benefit. It’s important that you do not stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor. Many times a person may start feeling better (which is the point of the medication) and stop taking their medication only to relapse into the condition for which they sought medication. Stopping your medication suddenly can cause adverse side effects or worsen your condition.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

More support services
In addition to behavioral health services, SeMRHI also offers vision services at the Support Services Center. The following list includes a few of the services that the optometrist can provide. A voucher for frames and lens is available for patients who qualify.
•    Routine eye examinations
•    Diabetic exams
•    Glaucoma
•    Cataract evaluation
•    Ocular disease evaluation
•    Eyeglasses/prescriptions

There is also a drive-thru pharmacy at the Support Services Center where patients can get their prescriptions filled at a reduced cost. The Pharmacy Assistance Center is a closed-door pharmacy, which means only prescriptions written by doctors and nurse practitioners of Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. may be filled. Medications are purchased under the 340-b pricing program allowing the pharmacy to pass huge savings on to patients. Medication assistance clerks help patients complete the necessary paperwork for reduced-cost prescriptions. The Pharmacy Assistance Center is open from 8:30am to 6:00pm (Monday through Friday).

The leader in community health
SeMRHI offers 17 other clinics in and around Hattiesburg, including a dental clinic, ob-gyn, and after-hours clinic. “Patients can come to our clinics, and we guide them through the process of obtaining healthcare, whether it is primary care, dental, vision, women’s health, or behavioral health,” said Dr. Dyse.

Across Mississippi, community health centers operate in 21 clusters like SeMRHI spread over 190 sites. More than 330,000 Mississippians had their healthcare needs met this way in years past, with SeMRHI providing care to more than 10 percent of them. SeMRHI receives what is called a “330 Grant” — federal funding allocated as part of the Public Health Service Act intended to help serve populations on the margins of healthcare While not everyone qualifies for the discounted sliding-fee scale, many do; however, SeMRHI cares for patients from all walks of life and accepts all payer sources.

The success of SeMRHI is largely attributed to its dedication to the community, meeting the needs of the community, and meeting the needs of its patients. For more information, about Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. (SeMRHI) please visit

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December 03, 2018
Categories:  Feature


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