Rose Stidham remembers a strange change in some of her Tacoma friends last winter.
The day before Thanksgiving, she’d gone to India to do mission work with some of the poorest of India’s poor people. She returned a few days before Christmas.
People seemed gray. They were subdued, quiet, sad. It seemed as if the part of their being that stores joy had a slow leak in it.
Stidham’s mission had spared her the experience of the massacre of four Lakewood Police officers the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving. But she was back home when a Pierce County deputy succumbed to the wounds he suffered at a domestic violence call in Eatonville, four days before Christmas.
Her return slapped her with a unique perspective on what the killings, manhunt and memorials had done to people who tried to comprehend them.
Krystyna Troczynska, one of Stidham’s colleagues at Metropolitan Development Council, is still seeing the effects of post traumatic stress disorder.
“These traumatic events are resulting in an increased need for PTSD counseling in our community,” Troczynska said on a News Tribune Web chat last week with mental health care professionals and Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor.
That’s the sad reality. But Troczynska brought good news of a new mental health resource.
“At this point, Metropolitan Development Council is accepting everyone for counseling, and we can assist in getting set up with a coupon if it is available,” she wrote. “We are able to provide counseling no matter what their income or coverage. If we are unable to serve them for any reason we will give referrals as necessary.”
MDC has long provided substance abuse counseling, and many of those clients also have a mental illness.
It makes sense to treat them for both conditions in one facility, sometimes with the same dually trained counselor. That’s the rationale behind adding the new level of expertise and service to the agency, which now has its provisional license as a mental health agency.
To pay for the staff, MDC won federal stimulus funds to hire counselors who are qualified to work with both mental illness and substance abuse.
Troy Christensen, the Pierce County mental health manager who also participated in Wednesday’s Web chat, welcomed this new resource, and gave added advice on how to access care.
“For many people without health care coverage, finding local counselors who work on a sliding fee is an option, but those resources are limited,” he said. “The public mental health system is based upon Medicaid, so they cannot provide ongoing care to individuals with no insurance. But if they are in a crisis they can receive crisis intervention regardless of their ability to pay.”
It’s good to have that laid out. It’s good to have easy, direct contact lines, because it can be anything but easy to recognize you need help – and to ask for it.
“There is still major stigma associated with mental illness,” Christensen said.
We can change that. We can learn more about the diseases and treatments. We can understand that the disease does not define the person. We also can reflect that in our attitudes and our language about people who are under disruptive stress.
“If you think back over the past decade or so, stress reactions have become understood and acceptable,” chat visitor and counselor Al Ratcliffe noted.
Christensen agreed. “Reactions to stress are somehow considered more a part of the continuum of everyday reactions,” he said.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have pushed that for years, and now the economy is doing the same.
Because we’re all in it together, we’re more understanding of the causes and symptoms.
It helps to know that the bravest among us are right with us on that – the ones who lost their professional comrades on those dark days last winter.
“People in law enforcement are more attuned to the fact that dealing with difficult, traumatic, terrible things can bring difficulties,” Pastor said during the online chat. “We have counselors available, but we do so without creating the expectation that our people will fall apart. Rather, we create the idea that getting some help is acceptable and smart and should be done sooner rather than later.”
That’s a healthy evolution, a needed change.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677
Metropolitan Development Council
Krystyna Troczynska can be reached at 253-284-7808 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pierce County Mental Health
TNT Web chat
To see a transcript from last week’s online chat, go to the Word on the Street blog at blog.thenewstribune.com/street.