When time counts, Vera French aiming to increase mental health care access


Time can be the most crucial component when it comes to treating mental illnesses effectively.

To make access to resources easier, Vera French is launching Same Day Access services.

Those started on August 2.

“It’s something that’s long overdue. We recognize that the need is there and that’s been something, over the years we’ve consistently tried to work on to improve access,” Vera French CEO Richard Whitaker said.

During set times Monday through Friday, therapists are available for an initial counseling evaluation for both adults and children.

It’s to help make sure new patients can have access to care before and when they are in crisis.

“They don’t have the luxury of just waiting and things will be okay. Usually, things get worse if they don’t get help right away.” Whitaker said, “So, we recognize that there’s a need to improve access.”

On the first day, Vera French tells Local 4 and Fox 18 News they had about ten adults meeting with a therapist.

The service is focusing on new patients to Vera French and they can call ahead, but no appointment is required.

It’s meant to provide timely access and to start the process earlier because Vera French said in the past, they’ve seen waits between two and three weeks for a therapist.
Whitaker said, “You start therapy first. You come and get your initial counseling evaluation. You start working on problem solving and skill building and working through some of the issues.”

Whitaker said Same Day Access would not be for prescribing medications, but that can be an option for future visits in needed.

Work to develop the service started six months ago, and the Center hired five additional office-based therapists to increase overall access.

For those in the mental health community, this is a needed move. 

Peer Support Specialist Edward Murphy said, “Having those resources available, which is so hard to do. I know there’s a lot of great organizations in the community, but with the overall numbers people coming in, it’s hard.” 

For Edward Murphy, it’s a step forward for the mental health community to see providers provide same-day access.

Murphy said, “I believe it’s a time a crisis that they go in, so I think it’s great in that time, there’s somebody.”

Murphy knows the impact these conditions can have.

Murphy said, “I was diagnosed at a young age of 13 with bipolar. I’ve also been diagnosed with PTSD. It’s definitely been a challenge.”

He now uses his own experiences, working in the mental health field to help others not just at a clinic, but also as a peer support specialist through organizations like NAMI and Life Connections Peer Recovery Services in DeWitt.

Murphy said,”Knowing that I can show people that there is hope and that helps me as well.”

Danielle Jones also turned her own experience into a way to help people with mental illness as a speaker for NAMI and developing the peer-support group Cafe Therapy.
She said by having therapists available to help within a day or hours of someone reaching out, it’s going to save lives.

Danielle Jones said, “Only relying on friends and family, it’s not going to be enough. They may not be there for you, they may not understand, so being able to get the right help, right when it’s available and when you need it most is going to be really helpful.”

She said waiting could lead to someone hurting themselves or taking their life. 

For Jones, it’s making sure healing can begin early and strong.

Jones said, “To say what’s really going on without the embarrassment and to actually be able to open up.”

Local 4 and Fox 18 News is also digging deeper into the numbers of mental illness and treatment.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports 600,000 Iowans live with a mental illness.

The number is about 1.2 million in Illinois.

Vera French told Local 4 and Fox 18 News, they serve about 10,000 people every year with all of their services, but about 9,000 people are specifically for therapy and counseling services.

Unity Point’s Robert Young Center said for 2017, 15,794 people used all of their services, and there were 17,498 individual therapy sessions. 

Contacts and Resources (From NAMI)
Eastern Iowa Mental Health Crisis Line: 24/7 – Toll-Free 1-844-430-0375
Robert Young Center (Illinois) Crisis Line: 24/7 – Local 309-779-2999
NAMI Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
If you or someone you know is in crisis— whether considering suicide or not —please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.  VETERANS Press 1
National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233)
Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.
NAMI National HelpLine: 1-800-950-6264 – NOT for a crisis.
The Information HelpLine is an information and referral service which can be reached by calling 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., EST.  Business callers, including those seeking particular NAMI staff members, should call 1 (703) 524-7600.

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