I am the daughter of an addict. My father, an affable and loving guy, was an unpredictable and absent father for most of my childhood. He self-medicated to manage his mental health challenges with drugs and alcohol. He did so with the kind of regularity that has left my early memories of our years together fuzzy and out of focus. Mostly he was just gone. By the time I was 6, he had physically left — moving across many state lines.
From that point on, our relationship was reduced to awkward and sometimes painful holiday gatherings and a smattering of phone calls. The calls were regular when he was well and erratic when he wasn’t. Though my mom and I spoke frankly about his addictions, it wasn’t until years later that I started to see him as a person, not just my dad trying to manage his own demons the best he knew how. Looking back now, I know there were limited resources available to him and my family. I wonder how our family story would have been different had he had access to quality mental health care.
Although we’ve come a long way in talking openly about mental health care, there are still miles and miles to go. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and here are resources I hope every Utahn knows about: The National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah Chapter (NAMI Utah), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the SafeUT app and the UNI crisis and WarmLine.
This month, NAMI is offering free online support groups for individuals and family members with mental health conditions. They are also offering 90-minute mental health educations seminars, as well as a mental health mentor phone line available from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday by calling (801) 323-9900 or (877) 230-6264.
AFSP Utah brings together fierce activists and advocates who are working to end the alarming rate of death by suicide suffered by so many right here in Utah. They run a 24/7 crisis hotline at 800-273-8255, and a text option, too. You can text “TALK” to 741741 and get help.
The SafeUT app available in Utah is one of the best apps to access mental health care, and you can download the app to any smartphone. The SafeUT Crisis Chat and Tip Line app is a statewide service that provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through live chat and a confidential tip program. We need to do a lot more to support our youth who are in crisis, but this app is a great start and is available to anyone in our state who has access to a smartphone.
If you are in crisis or just need to talk with a professional with shared experience, the UNI Crisis Line and WarmLine is available to all county residents. A caring live voice will answer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (801) 587-3000.
Salt Lake County partners with a large network that connects people in need of mental health care and substance abuse programs to service providers. With approximately a third of Utahns living in Salt Lake County, we are the largest connector to mental health and addiction treatment services in our state. Our county residential mental health and addiction treatment service providers are working under difficult conditions, particularly in the time of COVID-19. With the challenges presented in group home living, they have worked hard to offer telehealth services and online support groups when possible.
As voters, your compassionate decision to expand access to Medicaid has dramatically increased the county’s access to treatment beds and services, despite the state legislature’s earlier moves to limit Medicaid expansion. This means that long waits for access to treatment have been reduced dramatically. In Salt Lake County, our goal is to have mental health and substance use treatment available for all, when they need it.
I’m proud to serve on the Salt Lake County Council. This year, we have new sober living programs. We are expanding evidence-based treatment programs for those who are severely mentally ill with exceptional providers like Recovery International, Odyssey House and Volunteers of America. Additionally, First Step House will be opening a brand new 75-unit permanent supported housing complex for our most vulnerable, seriously mentally ill residents. We have learned a lot about the social determinants of health, and we know and understand that housing is health care. There is certainly more that needs to be done, but these are positive steps in the right direction.
Through our health department and community coalitions, substance abuse prevention work is also expanding. We are identifying gaps in our services in the county and building a strategy to address needs before addiction becomes a part of anyone’s life.
Research proves that providing effective treatment and housing to people suffering from mental illness and addiction saves the taxpayers money. More access to treatment means fewer homeless resource centers and less crowded jails.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of us are spending more time at home, anyone can begin to feel disconnected from their support systems, friends and colleagues. As your councilwoman, I want you to know that support is available. Picking up the phone and making that call for help can be difficult. You are not alone. Take the step and download the SafeUT app or add the hotline phone number to your contacts. Share these resources in your social networks, and on your social media pages. I know I will. Resources like these could have helped my father. I hope they can help you and your family, here and now.
Shireen Ghorbani is an at-large member of the Salt Lake County Council.