Laramie’s Mental Health Problem: CHC Wants to Help
It’s long been acknowledged that Wyoming has a high suicide rate. The highest currently in the nation, according to the CDC’s 2021 data, with 32 deaths per 1,000 people. That’s 10% of Centennial’s population.
Oddly juxtaposed with that statistic is the stigma attached to discussing mental health, especially in a state that values its toughness and independence.
“We’ve always been that way. The idea is that you need to just ‘figure it out.’ Other people do that, so you have to do that, too,” said Rachel LeBeau, Development Director at Cathedral Home (CHC) in Laramie.
Because of the pandemic, and more recently Ivinson Memorial Hospital’s Community Health Needs Assessment, which pointed to key factors like access to care, social and economic factors, and behavioral health (mental health, suicide, and substance abuse), CHC launched a program to help address those needs, community-wide.
“We really zeroed in on the number of people who experienced significant mental distress over the last year. It was in the thousands. Just in Albany County. If that’s the number who self-reported that, who is helping them? What is the plan to meet their needs?” LeBeau and her team asked.
Community Counseling for Anyone
Community Counseling was launched last July and has clocked more than 2,000 therapy hours. Though known for serving struggling youth, CHC’s Community Counseling program is open to the entire community:
“One of the reasons it was launched was because of the wait. We want to give families immediate access to eliminate the time barrier.”
Along with time, LeBeau addressed the idea of therapy being considered a luxury for many. CHC hired a client services advocate to work with every person who inquires about finances. “We have people who pay nothing. We have people who pay $11. We have people who pay their co-pay and others who can self-pay. Due to our fundraising, we’re able to meet the needs of people wherever they are financially.”
They also provide transportation if necessary.
Sometimes, it’s not travel or cost or time that gets in the way. It’s stigma.
“Some people have never allowed themselves to entertain the idea that ‘It’s OK to not be OK.’”
“It doesn’t make you other, weird, or weak to not know how to navigate mental health. In a state like Wyoming, we have to be more comfortable having these conversations,” LeBeau added.
To get people curious about counseling, CHC has taken several approaches. They’re re-designing their website for options: those who are ready to talk to someone now, or for those who would like to do more investigation before deciding to talk. They’re talking to physicians, care providers, and the school district, and have a partnership with the University to expand care.
“Sometimes, you just need to say it out loud.”
The other stigma of therapy is that it’s trauma. “It doesn’t have to be a mental health problem. It’s divorce. A car wreck. It’s a hard decision someone has to make. Or even someone saying they just feel bad, for several days in a row..that it’s ok to say, to talk about it,” LeBeau added.
To widen access, provide further comfort, and more accessibility, Telehealth is also an option. You can talk to someone from your phone or computer. “If the trip is too far, or you’re not ready for your community or family to know, that’s an option. We can get you phone minutes, or to wifi close by.”
“It's going to take all of us being more comfortable having these conversations. To make it safe to seek services.”