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Mental health organization to increase outreach

Cullman Times - 12/22/2017

Dec. 22--While funding for mental healthcare has declined across the state, efforts to reach out locally are on the upswing.

Mental Healthcare of Cullman sees 3,600 patients annually, with about 40 percent of that number listed as children, said Chris Van Dyke, director of the organization, during a talk at Cullman Rotary on Thursday.

The local mental healthcare organization recently merged with Huntsville Mental Healthcare in an effort to gain more support and resources, a move Van Dyke believes will help address more needs in the community.

"With the merger, we are a larger organization and we now have the ability to work on obtaining more grants that can be used to help people in Cullman County," Van Dyke said.

Mental Healthcare of Cullman has 100 employees. A portion of the staff is assigned to working with schools where they can work closer with children.

"We believe if we can have success with children, we can head off more problems before they become adults," Van Dyke said.

He said the efforts in schools are already positive. Adults, however, are facing some difficult trends locally and nationally.

"Looking back, we saw funding for mental health reduced for eight, nine years," Van Dykes said. "Then the state closed hospitals until there is really only Bryce left for the non-criminal adults who need treatment. Once they closed one and saved money, they just kept closing them, and now the waiting list is so long. There is nowhere else to go for such longterm care."

As funding and services have declined, the suicide rate has risen. Van Dyke said it doubled this year and the reasons vary.

"It's not all drugs, but that is a factor," he said. "There are relationships involved and other reasons. My message about suicide is if anyone is thinking about it, talk about it. Once a person talks about it and doesn't just keep those thoughts inside, there is a chance to intervene and find help."


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