“May is Mental Health Awareness month,” says Erin Boyt, the mental health professional introduced to the Winnfield Rotary Club at its meeting on May 4, 2022. Ms. Boyt is in the field of education, a specialist in Educational Technology with a Master’s Degree in Education. She worked in the school setting for several years before conducting a summer program on mental health and determining this was her calling. She began her own community mental health center which she operated for 11 years and then merged with Natchitoches Regional Medical Center. She is also a volunteer firefighter and first responder.
Ms. Boyt’s timely appearance at Rotary to speak on the subject of mental health was arranged by Rotarian of the Day, Sandi Teal of Autumn Leaves Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Their connection is through the NRMC’s Insight Behavioral Geriatric Psychiatric Unit, which accepts referrals of geriatric patients from all nursing homes in the area for inpatient mental health treatment.
Among the eye-opening facts related by Ms. Boyt is that over 715,000 adults in Louisiana are afflicted with mental illness of some kind, including depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and various types of schizophrenia and other psychoses. In the last couple of years, the COVID-19 epidemic in Louisiana has resulted in an increase in the rates of mental illness due to isolation, anxiety and stress, but has resulted in a decrease in treatment of those afflicted. One out of every five adults, 20 percent, in the United States has a mental health issue—that is 43.8 million people. And 18 percent of children in the United States suffer from a mental health issue.
The good news, according to Ms. Boyt, is that “Winn Parish residents have several mental health treatment resources available in the area.” There is Winterhaven Professional Counseling Services on Highway 167 North, which provides treatment for all ages, from school age to geriatric patients. Winn Community Health Center also provides counseling and psychological services.
Natchitoches Regional Medical Center serves the residents of our community with a full range of mental health services as well. Insights is their inpatient treatment center for patients 45 years old and up through geriatric patients, offering a total of 15 beds. Discovery House is NRMC’s step-down facility which houses male patients over the age of 21. The outpatient component of NRMC’s services is called Reflections, which provides intensive outpatient group therapy five days a week, addressing such problems as bereavement, mild depression, chronic depression, and any other mental health issue not requiring inpatient treatment.
According to Ms. Boyt, most Americans confront problems caused by excessive stress in their lives. Symptoms of excessive stress include eating too much or emotional eating, headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, and other physical ailments. Some coping skills we can all use to decrease the stress our bodies experience day to day include daily exercise, prayer or meditation, listening to soothing music or sounds, getting outdoors, gardening or other outdoor activities, other types of hobbies, deep breathing, taking a power nap for 15 minutes or so, taking time out from work activities for 10 or 15 minutes, making a social contact, identifying areas of gratitude in your life. If we are coping with the physical or mental illness of a loved one, getting support from someone who understands the issues of such a situation is very helpful.
The day program of NRMC called Reflections is an intensive outpatient group therapy program. Beginning at 10 a.m., the program hosts three group sessions per day, in which patients talk about many different things and issues, share their problems and their coping mechanisms, and develop social skills and contacts. Between sessions, the patients have snacks and relaxation. Group therapy eliminates the patients’ isolation, gets the focus off themselves, helps them relate to others with the same problems, and offers helpful suggestions for coping. In addition, the patients get a sense of satisfaction from helping each other. The medical professionals monitor whatever medications the patients may be on, and at the end of the day, a nurse provides the patients with health information related to their issues.
The length of the program for each patient varies, depending on the individual needs. The patients receive aftercare for as long as they need it, often for many years, and maybe in person or telemedicine visits.
“Symptoms indicating a need for mental health therapy include anything that affects a person’s normal daily functioning,” says Ms. Boyt, and maybe not eating, overeating, not sleeping or sleeping too much, a change in hygiene habits, obsessive repetitive thoughts (like the man who constantly thought about buying a sailboat and sailing away from his life, but he had never sailed in his life), isolation and similar changes. If you notice such symptoms in a loved one, friend or relative, you should take a gentle approach to encourage the person to seek help. You may say something like, “I know I needed help when I was……” or “I benefitted from getting therapy or treatment, and it might help you also.” Just gently encourage the person to talk to someone, such as their primary care doctor. Men are notorious for not wanting to reveal problems, so they need encouragement and permission to talk about things that are bothering them, and need to know it’s harmful to bury their stress because talking about it can ease the burden. It’s helpful to talk to someone with common experiences, such as firefighters talking to other firefighters, police officers with police officers, and the like. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a particular problem today for persons who have been on active duty in combat situations, and talking with someone who had the same experience is vital. The VA does have mental health resources to help with such problems, so that is a good place to start.
Ms. Boyt responded to many questions from her audience, and the meeting was subsequently adjourned with the Rotary motto, “Service above self!”
Pictured above: Left – Ms. Erin Boyt, Rotarian Sandi Teal