PRINCETON — Since opening its doors two years ago to provide counseling services to Medicaid patients, Open Doors Community Counseling has more than doubled its care size to help fulfill a substantial mental health need in the community.
The program, which is funded through Gateway Services, has served more than 130 adults to date. The staff on hand has grown from one full-time and one part-time counselor to four full-time counselors and is in the process of looking for a fifth.
And in March, the program expanded its office to Henry to help fulfill a need for services in the Marshall County area.
Despite this growth, however, Tracy Wright, CEO of Gateway Services, and Ashley Holcman, lead licensed clinical professional counselor at Open Doors, said there is still a huge need for mental health services in the area.
“If people don’t think there’s mental illness issues in the community, they’re not leaving their house. It really is everywhere,” Wright said.
According to statistics, the client-to-counselor ratio in Bureau, Putnam, Marshall and Henry counties is 2,001:1. What’s worse is that there is a major lack of funding in Illinois for mental health services, as the state has made some of the largest budget cuts in the nation in that category.
Open Doors Community Counseling is doing what it can to serve those seeking treatment, and is currently working on a goal to become certified to provide treatment to adolescents with Medicaid.
Holcman said statistics show suicide is the third leading cause of death in Illinois for young adults ages 15 to 34. She said the tragedy of suicide is often hidden by stigma, myth and shame.
With May being Mental Heath Awareness Month, the counseling service has used this time to shine a light on facts about mental illness in an effort to reduce the stigma and help people recognize depression and anxiety are a real problem in today’s society.
“A lot of people have it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Holcman said.
“We don’t want people to feel ashamed to seek treatment. … We need to work on making it equal between mental illness and physical illness. They are very much alike.”
Holcman said it’s important to educate and talk about the mental health issues.
“I think because we don’t talk about it, people feel alone. … But one in four people are struggling with something, and those are huge numbers,” she said.
She said the rates of depression and anxiety in Illinois are on the rise and across the nation.
“Depression is a risk factor for suicidal thoughts, with estimates of depression present in up to 60 percent of completed suicides,” she said.
The counselors at Open Doors provide treatment for illnesses such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia disorder, adjustment disorder, substance abuse, etc. While the program is funded through Gateway Services, Wright reassured the program is not just for people with intellectual developmental disabilities.
Holcman assured treatment for depression and anxiety are very effective. For clients in need of higher level of treatment, help can be facilitated.
Because the Open Doors program is facing such a huge need in the community, Wright said a long-term goal is to one day provide services to patients with private insurances. The program currently only accepts Medicaid patients because of their struggle to find providers.
Wright said she does not want to lose sight of those Medicaid patients, but at the same time, it would be beneficial for the community to one day be able to open the door and serve the needs of people across all environments.