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Building Resilience in the Mental Health Care System

News Release

Managing Systemic Stress through Building Resilience

Authored by Jane Rogan

Stress is that feeling we get when negative events occur beyond our control. Though mild feelings of stress can be useful in our daily lives, if feelings cross the line into trauma, stress can become debilitating. Since 2017, when widespread personal and community stress caused by hardship from the firestorms and floods occurred, mental health professionals have been working with individuals, families and organizations to help develop community resilience in the face of severe adversity. Tools such as self-care, mindfulness, breathing exercises, physical exercise, interpersonal connectedness and flexibility [ability to adapt] are some of the methods used to build a personality more resilient to stress. [RESILIENCE: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope; Documentary film, 2016]

Building a Resilient Mental Healthcare System

Building personal resilience is important; more so as we treat people traumatized by frequent natural disasters, including the current pandemic. Interestingly, building systemic resilience does not look that different. For the mental health care system to serve the broader community effectively and efficiently, the system itself is adapting and integrating systemic resilience practices based in organizational collaboration. Building a healthy system of care might look like building an ecosystem – an inter-dependent continuum of care- through more efficient inter-organizational collaboration.

Mental health has long implemented a ‘stepped’ continuum of care, triaging people with acute episodes of illness in our hospital ERs, County Crises Stabilization Units and psychiatric hospitals. Aurora Behavioral Health system, here in Sonoma County, is a 95-bed psychiatric hospital – soon to be a 144-bed hospital. Aurora Hospital admits adult and adolescent patients who are experiencing severe anxiety, depression or psychosis- or who have attempted suicide. Aurora also admits patients with less acute symptoms to the outpatient program, which offers evidence-based tools for improving their daily quality of life. Groups meet as often as every day or three times a week, depending upon the patient’s need.

Patients primarily come to Aurora through referral. The referral may come from our County Crisis Stabilization Unit or other CSUs and agencies in Northern- Central California. Referrals are made from individual therapists, primary care doctors, psychiatrists, ER staff, police or EMT staff. A person may self-refer to the hospital or a family member may refer as well. Regardless of how patients come to Aurora, each patient is treated with the respect and compassion all individuals deserve. Upon arrival Intake Specialists speak with each person to assess them for the appropriate level of care. If Aurora is not able to admit the patient, staff will work with the referring organization to help find available treatment.

Eliminating Stigma

Treatment for mental illness has come a long way in the past decade. Stigma, which tamps down access to care and foments debilitating stress, is fading as progress is made toward building resilient communities and systems of treatment. Advocates are making their voices heard and legislative progress is being made. In January 2020, bills mandating screening at the primary care level for postpartum depression went into effect. Our hope is that as we work together to move forward with new programs, legislation and funding mental healthcare will be granted the parity it seeks as an integral part of Healthcare.

Most mental health treatment websites have a list of County resources, e.g. https://www.aurorasantarosa.com/ mental-health-resources, or there is a long list of resources for mental health treatment that can be found can be found online at NorCal Resources, or by calling 2-1-1.