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Sun Jul 29, 2018, 08:28 AM

As Montana begins training new community health workers, Haiti may offer a window to the state's hea

As Montana begins training new community health workers, Haiti may offer a window to the state’s health-care future

In late 2017, Montana legislators voted to substantially cut funding for mental health care, in response to a budget shortfall. Some of the effects on the state’s mental health system were immediate: Mental health centers in Livingston, Libby and elsewhere closed or contracted, leaving many, especially in rural Montana, stranded without care. Other services may be lost or weakened over time.

In the rural U.S., around 60 percent of residents already live in areas with a dearth of mental health professionals. The problem is particularly acute in the vast lands that make up the rural West. Most of Montana is ranked as a mental health shortage area by the Health Resources & Data Administration; in Glendive, Montana, for example, a single psychiatrist offers services on a part time basis. At the same time, Montana has higher-than-average rates of mental illness and suicide.

In the wake of the budget cuts, a group of newsrooms spanning western and central Montana, in collaboration with High Country News and the Solutions Journalism Network, explored how communities are responding to prevent the state’s mental health crisis from worsening. It’s our second project in The Montana Gap initiative, focused on the resilience of rural communities — and on the growing divide between those towns and the state’s growing urban centers.

What we found was a rise in informal treatment options: Rather than replacing the mental health workers whose jobs disappeared, communities are building on-the-ground care networks. In Anaconda, for example, trainers teach residents how to identify a friend or stranger facing potential mental health crisis and how to intervene. In Choteau, extension agents train teens on how to treat their mental health as they would physical health, with simple first aid tactics. Across the state, people who have struggled with addiction or mental health issues can become professional peer supporters.

Read more: https://missoulanews.com/coverstory/as-montana-begins-training-new-community-health-workers-haiti-may/article_0dd3a3a4-854e-11e8-bb7f-6b7f5735ba42.html

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