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Consumer-Led Change and Research Programs Help Advance Mental Health Issues

Through our work at The Kim Foundation, we have had the privilege of visiting several service providers and consumer run programs these past two months. We are encouraged and pleased to see consumers continue to play an expanding role in determining the course of treatment for mental illnesses and we applaud those efforts. When the people directly affected by mental illness feel respected and confident, when they know their voices matter, they become more willing to share their stories, needs, and goals. Community service providers and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services then have the opportunity to respond by helping to implement appropriate community resources that meet those needs.

Nebraska moved forward several years ago with a commitment to close large ‘mental hospitals’ and to develop community based treatment centers to enable consumers to stay connected to their homes and families. Local treatment was intended to help alleviate crisis by providing early, appropriate intervention and care.  In this approach, peer role models encourage other peers to develop the tools and skills needed for help, hope and healing and the results have been impressive. 

The development of peer support services, the proliferation of WRAP classes, Crisis Intervention Training available to police officers, the inclusion of consumers and family members on boards and advisory committees, and the greater participation of consumers in national conferences and workshops has become visible evidence of change. We see the Keya House in Lincoln and the proposed Wellness Center in Omaha as direct reflections of consumer leadership.

A great example of consumer led change centers on a recent request by Nebraska Medicaid to establish a drug formulary, whereby consumers had to accept the least costly of the medications available, rather than having their own physician prescribe medication most effective for each individual. This request was defeated by the Legislature because the consumers urged their state senators not to establish the formulary. They expressed the consequences of this action so logically and eloquently that the Senators agreed and the program was rejected for implementation by the Division of Medicaid Services.

Yes, Nebraska has need and opportunity to improve response or to become more pro-active in many areas of mental health care; however, we can celebrate the fact that consumers are increasingly assuming leadership and responsibility which is leading to meaningful change. Resiliency and recovery are always two worthy goals.

The Kim Foundation also recently visited the VA Hospital for Nebraska-Western Iowa Research Week Open House and learned about research programs in other VA hospitals across the US, and how this research transitions into advancements in Veterans’ health care.   

We were pleased by the long-term research and patient care partnership of Creighton University Medical Center, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and the Veterans Administration Hospital located in Omaha. Although most of the mental health related research of these medical centers is focused on the effects of substance abuse at this time, we did receive briefings regarding on-going research in other VA centers relating to women’s health, traumatic brain injury and PTSD that were of special interest to The Kim Foundation. We hope the Veterans Administration will continue to acknowledge and strengthen its response to veterans and their loved ones who must live with service related mental health issues.