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Highlighting Your Health: Team approach treats mental illness

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Coordinating behavioral health services across the region requires a team of experts who huddle daily to anticipate and address the needs of individuals who rely on Vidant Health facilities, programs and services. This includes a teleconference link to gain real-time insights from their colleagues in the region.


Vidant Health Communications

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Individuals dealing with mental illness and substance use often find the stigma to be quite a challenge.

Besides handling the symptoms and disabilities of their disease, they face stereotypes and prejudices that arise because of misconceptions about mental illness, said Glenn Simpson, administrator of behavioral health at Vidant Health Center. In addition to the public’s reaction, they internalize the stigma, he said, which often impacts seeking help.

The perception toward mental illness today is similar to how people may have felt about cancer in the 1970s, Simpson said, when cancer was often spoken of in hushed tones or was denied altogether. Fortunately, the stigma attached to mental illness and substance use disorders has declined somewhat in the last decade, he said.

Yet much remains to be done.

Awareness, education and treatment give Simpson reason for hope. Nevertheless, the statistics are daunting. One in five people in the United States have a diagnosable mental illness this year. Suicide, which often correlates with mental illness, is the nation’s second leading cause of death in people 10 to 34 years old. Of the 20.7 million people last year who had a substance use disorder, only 2.5 million sought help. Yet, people who get help can have a high rate of recovery, he said.

People can go on to live successful lives, Simpson said, if they receive treatment. Jane Pauley, one of the nation’s most respected TV journalists, was featured on CBS This Morning last month in an interview about her bipolar diagnosis. Singer Elton John has recently written an autobiography describing his substance use disorder. He has been clean almost three decades.

“The good news is that mental illness and substance use disorders are highly treatable,” Simpson said. He has first-hand experience. “I have had both depression and anxiety,” he said. Mental illnesses can have a genetic link and can be caused by one’s biology and life circumstances.

Simpson said he has had several family members who had mental illnesses or substance use disorders, “not unlike many other families in America.” Not everyone in his family sought help, but for those who did, their life has improved. “It typically takes courage to get medical care for almost any illness, but I think it takes much more courage for mental illnesses and substance use disorders due to the stigma,” he said.

In the ensuing years, Simpson earned graduate degrees in counseling and business administration. He has worked as a therapist in agencies and in private practice. Since 2008, he has been the behavioral health administrator at Vidant Health.

In addition to 52 behavioral health beds at Vidant Medical Center, the health system includes inpatient services at Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in Ahoskie, Vidant Duplin Hospital in Kenansville and Halifax Regional Medical Center in Roanoke Rapids. There are also seven behavioral health outpatient clinics and three structured outpatient programs at Vidant Bertie in Windsor, Vidant Edgecombe in Tarboro and Vidant Chowan in Edenton. The health system’s partner, ECU Physicians, operates a large psychiatric practice in the Greenville medical district.

Behavioral health is one of Vidant’s four core service lines, which is considered rare among even the most elite health systems. For Simpson, it’s gratifying. “I’ve worked all my professional life to see behavioral health acknowledged at this level,” said Simpson, whose career spans more than 30 years across several states.

“Most of us in this profession have a personal passion to help people heal,” Simpson said, similar to a cancer researcher or vascular surgeon. “The mental health and substance use treatment profession is a calling,” he said. “I have personally experienced the stigma and want to advocate for people with mental illness and substance use disorders.”

The real hope for such individuals is seeking help. Mental health professionals offer so much, he said.

“They can help you recover from even the most severe conditions,” he said, “with interventions that typically do not have serious side effects and are not invasive.” Some side effects can be difficult to manage but are not life-threatening.

One of his greatest concerns is that in society, people don’t always appreciate the connection between the mind and the rest of the body. Let’s put them together because they are together, he said. “The ideal in health care is to treat the whole person.”

Highlighting Your Health is an educational segment courtesy of Vidant Health that appears twice a month in The Daily Reflector. Vidant is a mission-driven, 1,708-bed health system that annually serves a region of more than 1.4 million people in 29 eastern North Carolina counties. As a major resource for health services and education, Vidant’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.


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