The Center for Independent Living of Northeastern Minnesota’s (CILNM) main office in Hibbing is offering a new program to serve the mental health needs of all people in the region. This program follows the same philosophy of, and is an integral component to, the Center’s mission: To assist individuals with disabilities to live independently, pursue meaningful goals, and have the same opportunities and choices as all people.
The most recent census statistics indicate that 20% of our population has experienced a mental health issue at least once during life. That figure is staggering. People who find themselves, or a loved one, facing mental health issues can require many different things. Some need intensive and ongoing psychotherapy, some only need information, and some need the support of a group. Just as every person is unique, every disability is unique. There is a great demand for additional mental health services due to the high number of referrals from schools, clergy, primary care physicians, corrections, other human service agencies and consumers themselves. Research shows that people with mental health issues are also at risk of having poor physical health, experiencing abuse and neglect, participating in illegal activities and failing in endeavors they attempt.
The CILNM board of directors and staff have been aware of gaps in the service delivery to people with mental health issues and until recently have been unable to address this problem. Some of the gaps noticed were: consumers needing mental health counseling were hesitant to seek assistance from yet another agency, consumers willing to seek counseling had few choices and/or a lengthy wait for an initial appointment, and consumers needing help in the form of support groups had difficulty finding professionally facilitated groups as they are not reimbursed by insurance plans.
When an area service provider planned, due to financial difficulties, on phasing out its mental health program in Saint Louis County, CILNM was asked by a local funding agency if it would absorb the program to keep providing services to consumers. This allowed the Center an easy entry into the provision of mental health services to those people who would not have received services any longer. Additionally, the Center’s policy of providing services regardless of a consumer’s ability to pay allowed the continuation of the former program’s flexible payment options. Adopting the Mental Health Program also benefitted consumers through opportunities for scheduling same day therapist visits and by meeting the needs of the consumers who desire more contact.
The current professional heading the program is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) who uses a holistic approach, and uses methods from most theories of psychotherapy and a variety of techniques—role playing, imagery, homework, workbook assignments and others—to assist people in improving their emotional health. Her counseling style fits with the independent living philosophy of core values including consumer control, self-help and peer support, and equal access to society. This is a radical departure from the traditional rehabilitation paradigm found in northeastern Minnesota where professionals often make choices for their clients.
The Mental Health Program offers individual, couple and family counseling, plus group support facilitated by the LICSW—and is a Lifeworks Employee Assistance program affiliate provider. (This is a Lutheran Social Services counseling program for people whose employer has a contract with Lifeworks.) Research shows that with all populations support groups are more effective than one-on-one therapy. Groups contribute peer guidance and they provide the means to achieve a network of support that does not breed dependency on a therapist. The active support groups meeting every month are those for: eating disorders (adult), fibromyalgia and chronic pain, and mental health. Expansion is planned, among other areas, into e-therapy via the Internet, pain management, gambling addiction and eating disorders (teens) groups.
The CILNM Board of Directors will evaluate this program on an ongoing basis by using consumer surveys and staff evaluations. They believe that this program is an essential component in ensuring the quality of life for people with mental health issues—and their loved ones—who live in our service area.
Alicia Carrillo is the Licensed Mental Health Professional and Jon Kauppi is the Community Education Coordinator at the CILNM.