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Big Sky Behavioral Health Coalition aims to help increasing mental health need in community

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By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – Like many mountain towns, Big Sky has a behavioral health epidemic, much of which has been deteriorated further by the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this existing and growing need, the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, supported by partners in both Madison and Gallatin counties, announced this morning, the formation of the Big Sky Behavioral Health Coalition.

“Behavioral health, and the services that our community needs, are obviously lacking,” said  Ciara Wolfe, vice president of philanthropy at the YCCF. “They were lacking before the pandemic, and I think as you heard from everyone today, the pandemic only has exasperated that. Our board of directors has identified behavioral health as one of our top priorities and … the work that the partners shared here today is showing us a clear path forward on how we can best support the work of behavioral health.”

Partners in this effort, who each presented at the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce’s bi-annual Eggs & Issues meeting on Nov. 18, included: Maureen Womack, systems director of Behavioral Health at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital; Michael Faust, director of Western Montana Mental Health Center; Taylor Rose, director of Clinical Services & Operations at Bozeman Health Big Sky Medical Center; Allen Rohrback, CEO at the Madison Valley Medical Center and Norman Feazell, director of Marketing and Program Development at Providence Mental Health.

Other supporting partners include the Spanish Peaks Foundation, the Big Sky Resort Area District, the Human Resources Development Center, Community Health Partners, Women In Action, Charlie Health and Bridger Care. The YCCF is serving as the backbone of the coalition and will begin the hiring process for a director in the coming weeks, as well as, help coordinate the involved community partners and provide direct community outreach. Big Sky Behavioral Health Coalition will have an office located in Town Center.

Behavioral Heath in Big Sky has been a widely-researched topic, and data reveals that needs are apparent and dire. There are a number of factors contributing to these staggering statistics, some of which include the ski town culture, isolation, its seasonal nature, our high altitude and cold winters and economic disparities. Factors preventing many from seeking help include transportation, cost, lack of resources and one of the biggest: the stigma.

“As humans were just a beautiful mess,” Faust said. “It’s OK that we’re messy, but what we are attempting to do today … is to try and unpack just what those issues are.”

“I really just call it discrimination,” Faust continued. “Stigma is a way that we discriminate against others to say, ‘hey, let’s not talk about that.’ Stigma is preventing us as a society from getting us to where we want to be.”

In Montana, suicide is the sixth leading cause of death and we have the third highest suicide rate per capita in the country. On average, an employer, often the first line of defense when it comes to mental health and substance abuse crisis, has to call law enforcement 20 times before a wellness check occurs. These numbers have only increased since the onset of the pandemic—weekly average reports of anxiety or depression went from 35 to 40 percent in July alone. Feazell says at Providence, who has locations in Bozeman, Belgrade and Three Forks, they saw an increase from 600 to over 1000 clients a month.

Big Sky Medical Center currently has telehealth services available to those who need it and are in the process of onboarding two mental health advisors, Dr. Patrick Maidman who is board certified in adolescent and adult psychiatry, and Dr. Kathy Damberger DNP, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. They are currently recruiting for a mental health specialist. 

For those who need immediate mental health care, or are looking for the services available in the community, the hotline 2-1-1 is available 24/7.

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