A Moment with Connectus' Behavioral Health Team…

May is National Mental Health Month. Connectus recognizes the importance of mental health care and has two full-time Behavioral Health providers on staff, Marlena Wilson and Lea Hunter, in addition to Hanna Kleiner, Behavioral Health Services Director, to consult with patients and offer a wholistic approach to physical and mental care.

Following are Hanna, Marlena and Lea’s thoughts on Mental Health Month and how they work with other Connectus providers to integrate mental health care with primary health care services.

Hanna Kleiner, LPC-MHSP, Behavioral Health Services Director

Hanna Kleiner, LPC-MHSP, Behavioral Health Services Director

Marlena Wilson, LMFT

Marlena Wilson, LMFT

Lea Hunter, LPC-MHSP

Lea Hunter, LPC-MHSP

What do you want others to know about BHC services at Connectus?

Hanna: We want people to know that BHCs are part of the treatment team and our job is to help the providers help our patients improve their overall health. We do this by assessing, coaching, educating, consulting, providing brief clinical interventions, and connecting patients with other needed resources in the community. We have a background in clinical mental health, but our role at the clinic is not to provide traditional psychotherapy services – we are there to help our patients and providers overcome behavioral and mental health barriers to treatment. We work from the philosophy that you cannot heal the whole person without healing each part of the self (physical, emotional, behavioral, mental, spiritual) and that integrated care is the best and most effective way to help people become the healthiest versions of themselves.  

Marlena: The behavioral health consultant role is a one that bridges physical and mental health. As BHCs we work to help patient’s merge the gap between mind and body. BHCs provide health coaching and focus in on behavioral/emotional roadblocks affecting one’s physical health. Many of our patients have never spoken to a mental health professional and have reservations about obtaining that kind of service. We want to provide a positive mental health experience in the clinic, in hopes that the patient will obtain specialized mental health services to further to increase their overall wellness.

Lea: Many patients feel safe coming to their primary care provider or OB appointments to talk about mental health concerns before going to a counselor. BHCs are licensed mental health professionals, who assist patients and medical providers with case consultation. We bridge services when patients do not have access to care or until patient are linked to appropriate level of care. We provide education, clinical intervention, triage for risks, and short-term counseling.

What would you say to someone who is not sure if they are in need of a BHC’s care?

Hanna: Just about every health condition that we see in primary care has a behavioral health component to it – diabetes, hypertension, COPD, substance abuse/dependence, chronic pain, etc. – it is important to identify and address any behavioral health barriers in order to effectively treat and manage these types of physical conditions. Our BHCs are available to help guide you through your treatment and support any mental/behavioral health barriers along the way. If you aren’t sure if a BHC can help you with something you are going through, don’t be afraid to ask! Our BHCs are available to answer any questions in person or over the phone. They are always available to provide non-judgmental, respectful, and culturally competent care.

Marlena: Mental health is just as important as physical health. There is nothing to lose, but more to gain by exploring the psychological side of health care. Apprehension is understandable, but should not hold one back from pursuing the best for their overall health. I would recommend being open to a consult whenever visiting the clinic. As BHCs we are part of the primary care team and work closely with the medical professionals to help patients achieve their health goals.

Lea: It’s hard to separate emotional and mental health from overall health. The mind tells the body what to do. Incorporating BHC in with your visit would be an easy option. Ask your medical professional today.

How can friends and family assist someone who is struggling with mental health concerns?

Hanna: Know that mental health should be prioritized just as much as physical health. Mental illness is not a choice or evidence that someone isn’t “trying hard enough”. The best things to do to support loved ones with mental health concerns is to listen without judgment, be patient, ask questions and help them find a professional(s) who can help. Learn about what they are going through, encourage and support healthy activities. Take good care of yourself and practice healthy boundaries. If you are ever concerned about someone who may harm themselves or who is having suicidal thoughts, encourage them to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or contact local mobile crisis (615-726-0125).

Marlena: Family and friends support loved ones with mental health issues, by being there as a strong support system. That being said, a support system does not mean “fixing” everything for the loved one, but encouraging said person to take charge of their own health and find positive solutions for managing their mental health care (i.e. outpatient therapy, psychotropic medications, exercise, healthy diet, self-care, etc). Being non-judgmental, open, and accepting are three characteristics of positive support systems for individuals who are living with mental illness.

Lea: Support systems are extremely important in mental health. Being there for a friend or a family member to listen without judgement goes further than one can imagine. It’s also a good idea to have the crisis numbers on hand like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or drive them to the nearest ER / hospital.

Why is it important to increase awareness around mental health?

Marlena: Most healing starts from within. Increasing awareness about mental health allows others to work on the inside and the outside simultaneously. Mental health struggles are more common that many of us realize. If we were to normalize mental health treatment, which is one of the missions of the BHC, then the stigma around it would be diminished significantly. Many of the physical health problems people in the United States are affected and exacerbated by unresolved mental health issues. Increased mental health awareness leads to increased physical wellness.

Lea: The more awareness given to mental health, the more education and attention given to real issues. We need to debunk myths. Tear down walls that prevent people from getting help because of fear of being labeled. I taught a college level Psychology 101 class where I instructed students to read aloud the definition of Medical Condition: “it is any disease, illness, injury, physiological, mental or psychological.” Many students were fascinated how it can be physical, mental, and psychological.

What role do you think Mental Health Month plays in battling misconceptions surrounding your job and mental health awareness? 

Marlena: Mental Health Months helps combat the distortion that seeking mental health treatment is only for “crazy people.” Seeking mental health treatment is in fact the opposite of “crazy.” If patients are open to meeting with us and have a positive experience, I feel that that could lead to them taking the extra step to get the help they need. Even though we are licensed therapists, as behavioral health consultants our mission is slightly different from that of a traditional outpatient therapist. BHCs help the patient work on more immediate physical/mental health goals as well as referring them to more specialized treatment if that is needed.

Lea: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I think getting the word out about Behavioral Health Consultants while increasing awareness of Mental Health will hopefully motivate patients to utilize services more within the clinic. Mind and Body are connected in every way. How you feel physically impacts how you emotionally feel and vice versa. Ask to speak to a BHC today.

If you or someone you know are considering harming yourself/themselves or having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or contact local mobile crisis (615-726-0125).

Jay Sheridan