Addressing Mental Health Issues
Amethyst, an Alvis recovery program, is 34 years old, and a unique program in central Ohio. With its focus on integrated behavioral healthcare treatment, it is unlike many other treatment and recovery programs, because it focuses on both women and their children. Specifically, the Amethyst program allows children up to age 18 to live with their mothers while the mothers are in treatment. Recently acquired by Alvis in 2017, the Amethyst program shares the same “big picture” vision shared among all Alvis’ programs: it focuses on holistic treatment.
“Our whole goal is always a lifetime of recovery,” says Heidi Hess, Clinical Director of the Amethyst program. Hess highlights that lots of work at Amethyst is “person-centered” and “trauma informed,” that involves “treating the whole person” through “mental, physical, spiritual, and occupational” means. Part of Hess’ job is reviewing data and best practices to ensure that the program’s curriculum and goals are backed by current research, as the program aims to provide clients with the tools for a lifetime of recovery. While the Amethyst program provides services specificly for children of mothers undergoing treatment, the women at Amethyst each follow highly individualized programs that address to each woman’s needs and solutions.
One of the first things that a woman does upon her induction into the Amethyst program is meeting with an intake counselor and completing a series of assessments. A woman’s intake counselor will be her first counselor while at Amethyst. Once she is oriented with the program and its services, a typical day involves morning treatment groups centering on substance use disorders, and afternoon treatment groups to address mental health disorders. Specialty treatment groups also meet to address trauma and parenting. All clients are involved in treatment teams, which involves clinical professionals working with the client to talk about plans, goals, concerns, progress, and emerging needs. Treatment, as Hess describes, is “solution focused,” and teams concentrate on what they are doing to keep clients moving forward on the path to recovery.
Mental Health Recovery
The Amethyst program specifically treats co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders, and all clients are screened by Dr. Sara McIntosh to determine medical needs, including medication. Integrated behavioral health treatment and the use of psychiatric medication is much more advanced than it was 20-30 years ago, and aids to help treat the disease of addiction. According to Hess, approximately 90% of people who have an addiction also have a current mental health diagnosis. Mental health and addiction are, many times, related. The disease of addiction causes depressive syndrome, and often times, it begs the question of which came first. Either way, Hess stresses that addiction is a diagnosed mental health issue that is treatable. It’s brain chemistry. Medications can help clients stabilize the brain’s chemistry, so that recovery is attainable.
Specifically at the Amethyst program, most clients do have mental health and addiction treatment needs. They all are involved in mental health treatment groups. In addition to the
sessions addressing substance abuse in the morning and mental health in the afternoon, women are linked with other community mental health treatment agencies to address additional needs. Case managers assist clients with any needs for appointments or linkage to additional mental health services. Additionally, any type of Individualized Education Program (IEP) and/or specialty services are provided so that children of clients receive all services they would if they were living in the community rather than at the Amethyst program.
As individualized treatment plans change over the course of a client’s time at Amethyst, the treatment does not end after discharge. After being discharged, clients enter the “aftercare” phase of the program. During aftercare, clients meet with other recently discharged clients in peer groups, once a week, for 90 minutes. Aftercare continues for an entire year, and it offers support for dealing with the general challenges of life. Balancing work, school, children, and other potential stressors in early recovery can be extremely difficult. Hess cites research which finds that greater lengths of stays in treatment result in higher rates of successful long-term recovery. Keeping someone actively engaged in treatment significantly increases the likelihood of long-term, lifetime recovery. Following the completion of aftercare, graduates of the Amethyst program can choose to stay in treatment for up to two additional years.
Many times, people associate addiction with certain stigmas and some, despite all medical evidence to the contrary, do not see addiction as a disease. Hess finds that many aspects of people seeking treatment for addiction and/or mental health can be stigmatized. There are a range of negative stigmas in regards to addiction, mental health issues, poverty, and justice involvement. Alvis and its Amethyst program advocate against these stigmas through an evidence-based approach to integrated behavioral healthcare treatment. The Alvis vision is that communities believe each person’s potential is more important than their past. “What we know and believe is that addiction is a disease,” Hess says. “Mental health is a disease. When appropriately treated, people recover.” She compares recovery from addiction and mental illness to treatment and recovery from other chronic diseases, like blood pressure or diabetes. The disease may linger, but clients learn to use certain tools to live in society and remain in recovery, leading full and productive lives. Staff at Alvis’ Amethyst program work with clients to combat the stigmas revolving around addiction, mental illness, and people with past justice system involvement. In turn, clients are educated about the capacity for change and growth. The goal is holistic treatment. As Hess explains: “Yes, we treat the addiction, but we also provide basis for education and employability.”
Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.