What began as a social media post is quickly becoming a concerted effort to change the way mental illness is viewed and treated in Tulare County.
Leading the effort is Visalia resident Danelle Evangelho, a long-time sufferer of depression who decided to go public about difficulties she had finding adequate treatment.
The response to her initial Facebook post was far greater than she expected, the support overwhelming.
Now, many of those who responded have banded together to form a group dedicated to finding better ways to treat patients who suffer from mental illness–Mental Health – Partners and Allies in the County of Tulare (M-PACT).
“Basically, I am a mental health patient in Tulare County, mostly in Visalia,” Evangelho said. “With my own experience, I came to realize how many problems there are with (treatment options available locally). It’s something people don’t want to talk about. I posted about my problems and wanted to see if anyone else was having problems themselves.”
Better Treatment Options
M-PACT’s members want to remove the stigma attached to being labeled as mentally ill while bringing understanding through education and outreach, and their main goal is to open a crisis residential treatment (CRT) facility–a home-like setting for treatment–in Tulare County.
“Right now, the option for people having a crisis is going to the ER,” Evangelho said. “They’ll determine if you’re having a crisis, and if you are, their only option is sending you to Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital (KDMHH).”
Evangelho says that facility simply isn’t equipped to deal with long-term treatment.
“I went through my own experience there. I didn’t realize how bad and traumatizing and pointless it would be,” she said. “I got no help, because they don’t give help. They medicate you until you can be released, depending on what insurance you have.”
‘Help in the Moment’
According to KDMHH’s website, the average patient stay there is just eight days.
While the facility provides psychiatric assessment and referrals to other treatment providers, its main work is “acute inpatient crisis intervention and medication stabilization services.”
What Evangelho and the other members of M-PACT would like to see is a treatment facility that provides “a real mental, emotional break–a place where someone can be given real help in the moment” to prevent a downslide into an acute situation or to recover from one.
However, public funding for such facilities is extremely limited, and those that exist are generally funded by the communities in which they exist.
M-PACT’s members are hoping to use grant funding to reach their long-term goal.
“That’s our big one (creating a CRT). That’s what started M-Pact,” said Evangelho. “We’re going to chew at it until we get it accomplished, but we’re also going to chew on other things.”
Community of Support
While building a CRT in Tulare County is M-PACT’s main goal, Evangelho and the group’s other founding board members–including DJ Dowdy and Ariana Lizotte–hope M-PACT will become a clear voice in the community supporting mental health patients and treatment.
“People just need to ask, demand really. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. The real power is when people get angry,” Evangelho said. “We want to create a community of mental health activists who will speak up when we need action.”
And, they want to simply provide places where those who suffer from mental illness can vent their feelings and discuss their experiences.
“Reading about that can make a huge difference. They say, ‘me too,’” Evangelho said. “It’s empowering when so many people see they aren’t alone.”
Education and outreach, they believe, will lead to a genuine desire to provide substantial help to those who suffer from a mental illness and to the community of health care providers who treat them.
“That’s more than half the job. The community needs to be aware there’s a problem,” Evangelho said. “They need to be aware what mental illness looks like. Sometimes it’s hard to be compassionate with people with mental illness, because it tends to bleed out.”
M-PACT also wants to go beyond removing the stigma associated with seeking treatment for emotional problems.
“We want to make mental health cool, not just acceptable,” Evangelho said.
From Weakness to Strength
She also wants those who struggle with mental illness to realize their full potential and see their ability to contribute to society constructively.
“For me and a lot of the people I talk to, we are artists. We are exceptional people with unique talents and perspectives. That’s why we can be such creative and giving people. All of the coolest parts of myself are wrapped with my mental illness,” Evangelho said. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything. It’s worth all of it to have my gift. I want other people to see that, to see their strengths as advantages.”
While M-PACT is still in its fledgling stage, the group already has hundreds of active members providing peer counseling, resources, advice and a space to vent.
Those interested in joining the group can contact them at facebook.com/groups/MPACTTulareCounty/