Bridging the gap between mental illness and mental well-being can be a long and arduous road for some people, but it doesn’t have to be.

And Racine County has stepped up to the plate to help more people get on the path of recovery, which is why an event called Bridging the Gap was held Wednesday night to honor those who are in recovery and inspire others to seek it. But the night wasn’t just about recovery. It was also about how the community views people who have mental illnesses and getting rid of the stigma.

NAMI of Racine County, United Way of Racine County, the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health and Infinite Potential Central sponsored the event, which included a synopsis of what services were being expanded, three inspirational stories from people who are in recovery, a rally that included music and a vendor fair afterward.

The night was also about understanding that recovery is real, said Rodney Prunty, executive director of United Way of Racine County.

“You just have to get chills when you hear about all the things happening to address these very critical needs,” Prunty said. “We want to remind the community that recovery is real.”

Bridging the Gap With Services

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave highlighted how the county has taken a new approach to helping people with mental illnesses. Just putting people in hospitals is now no longer the norm.

“The changes we made allowed us to provide a continuum of care. We offer participant led treatment and program options, which is really important… We believe in individual-based empowerment and community-based services when possible through our behavioral health services,” Delagrave said.

The County has avoided unnecessary commitments and hospitalizations by promoting recovery. The average stay in the County’s behavioral health services and SAIL, the County’s mental health crisis program, decreased from four to five days to two to three days. Because of the changes, the county has reduced hospital stays for people having a mental health crisis by 72 percent. They have also seen mental health counseling usage increase by 670 percent, crises services increase by 150 percent, and substance abuse services increase by 610 percent since 2012.

“We are serving more and more people now than we have in 2012,” Delagrave said. “So we are definitely moving the needle, but as you know we still have many people who have mental health challenges that we’re not getting to… And we’re not going to stop until everyone that wants services can get services.”

The County expects to expand its prescriber and clinical support staff for youth, and offer comprehensive community services programs with an emphasis on children.

“Children had trouble getting access to services. We need to make sure that they get easy access to great and quality services. That’s what we’re working on for 2018,” Delagrave said.

This includes focusing on helping children that have had traumatic experiences and building a trauma-informed community by facilitating a community-wide training. But Delagrave reminded the audience that the county’s services would only be a strong as the community they serve.  Advocacy for people who have mental illnesses is paramount to a responsive and robust system, he said.

Racine Unified Committed To Task Force

Eric Gallien, deputy superintendent of the Racine Unified School District, pointed to the community’s passion around mental health, which helps give him purpose around education. The school district is committed to helping improve mental health care in Racine County through strategic partnerships, he said.

Part of the district’s mission has been to offer school-based mental health services to children. The district has four school-based mental health sites in the district and plans to increase that in the next school year by two more.

“As we continue to work with our partners, we are actively engaged in starting a mental health task force that gets together with all different sectors across the community to talk about what challenges the community faces around mental health and what can we do to help mitigate some of those challenges?” Gallien said.

The district hired Julie Hueller, the former vice president of operations for Wheaton Franciscan Health Care-All Saints, to help with the community collaboration project. It is also actively engaged with Ascension Health – All Saints, which took over Wheaton, to improve the Fresh Start program. That program helps early aged children who need mental health services.

“As I said before, Racine Unified is committed to this work,” he said. “We want to be a team and collaborate.”

Read about how Racine County and the Racine Unified School District are increasing services.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.