Slowly, if excruciatingly so, attitudes regarding mental illness appear to be changing for the better, with more recognizing that those contending with mental health struggles are no different than those dealing with physical ailments.
Ten years ago, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of adults in 37 states and the District of Columbia found that 89 percent of those without mental health symptoms agreed that treatment could help persons with mental illness lead normal lives; 78 percent of those with mental health symptoms also agreed that treatment can be effective.
Yet the stigma does remain, felt especially so among those suffering with mental health issues. The same CDC survey found that while 57 percent of adults believe that people are generally caring and sympathetic toward those with mental illness, only 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms felt others were carrying and sympathetic toward their situation.
It remains a challenge to reduce the stigma for both the patient and in the community, said Tom Sebastian, president and CEO for Compass Health, a nonprofit agency that provides mental health and addiction recovery services in Snohomish, Island, Skagit, Whatcom and San Juan counties.
“It’s important that they not feel shame and embarrassment,” Sebastian said, because that often can prevent people from getting the care they need.
Compass Health this year marks its 115th year, its 20th under the Compass name. It began as a Lutheran orphanage in Parkland, Washington, moving to Everett in 1922. Over the years its has added mental health and other services, joined with other providers and has grown to a five-county program with about 750 employees, serving more than 22,500 adults, youths and children each year.
Compass will mark its anniversary with a fundraising gala Friday at Tulalip Casino and Resort.
Compass offers a range of services and programs, providing psychiatric care; individual and group therapy for adults; counseling for victims of sexual abuse; foster parenting information, guidance and services; children’s outpatient treatment; crisis triage and stabilization for behavioral health and substance abuse; housing programs; and even financial management that can provide advice on paying rent, utilities and other bills on time.
Among its 16-bed residential treatment facilities are Aurora House in Edmonds and Greenhouse and Haven House in Everett.
Everett’s Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center provides counseling and support for child victims of physical and sexual abuse and their families.
Its facility at 3322 Broadway offers a range of services including crisis triage and stabilization and 16 beds for recovery from mental health crises and sobering support, which receives referrals from law enforcement and emergency medical technicians, diverting those clients from emergency rooms and jails.
Along with locations in Everett, Compass offers services in Edmonds, Lynn-wood, Monroe, Marysville, Mukilteo, Smokey Point and Snohomish.
Last year in the county, Compass Health offered outpatient counseling to 6,774 adults and 3,597 youths with ongoing mental health issues; emergency and triage services to 1,751 adults and 319 youths in behavioral health crises; intensive outpatient mental health services to 623 adults and 268 youths with severe behavioral health disorders; housing and support services to 79 adults with mental illness, who would otherwise be homeless, in jail or in an emergency room; and health care integration services to 381 adults and 29 youth that were at high risk of having multiple health problems and hospitalizations.
Compass, Sebastian said, continues to broaden the care and services it offers, looking to address not just the most obvious needs but to discover physical health and other issues that can be a barrier to healthy outcomes. Key to providing that level of care, Compass is working to increase its visibility in the community, and building partnerships and communication among other regional and local agencies and health care providers, coordinating their efforts to improve care.
With recent growth, Compass has been able to offer more services and is expanding from a social service provider to a health care provider that can provider better care for individuals.
Continued success in providing that care will be key to further improving attitudes about the effectiveness of mental health treatment and eliminating the shame and embarrassment that anyone might feel in seeking help.
Compass Health’s Building Communities of Hope Gala is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15 at the Tulalip Resort and Casino. The evening includes a cocktail hour, dinner and auction. Tickets are $100 each or $1,000 for a table. Proceeds will benefit to children’s camps, Camp Mariposa and Camp Out of the Box. To make a reservation go to www.compasshealth.org/donate/bcoh.