Health & Wellness



By Nicole Gregory     5/18/2017

In the past few years, prominent celebrities have come forward to share their struggles with mental illness.

Lady Gaga talked openly about suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome following a sexual attack when she was a teen. Prince Harry recently admitted that after his mother, Princess Diana, was killed in a car crash when he was 12, he shut down emotionally for years. Following the birth of her son, Gwyneth Paltrow says that she fell into a post-partum depression, which made her feeling like a zombie, devoid of feeling.

These celebrity revelations are part of a growing movement to de-stigmatize mental illness so that anyone who suffers from one of its many forms will find the courage to reach out for help.

Providence St. Joseph Health is playing a major role in this effort with the 2016 establishment of the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness, which will boost access to mental health services in Orange County and across the country, and will shape policy about it.

“Two years ago, when Providence and St. Joseph Health came together, both organizations considered what we could do together that we couldn’t do apart,” explains Annette M. Walker, president of strategy, Providence St. Joseph and chief executive at St. Joseph Health.

“Both management teams came to same conclusion — that we should tackle mental health, to be a bigger voice for advocacy and to draw attention to mental health issues,” she says.


Meeting a community need

The number of people who need help with mental or emotional problems is great. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, an estimated 9.8 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States suffered from severe mental illness (basic daily functioning was impaired) in 2015.

And more than 43 million adults suffered from some kind of mental illness — such as depression, anxiety, thinking about suicide, schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Yet help for these many problems is not easy to find. “If you look at the health of most communities, one of the most under-addressed areas is mental health,” says Walker. “It might be a universally recognized problem, but it’s not universally addressed,” she says.

When people with mental health issues don’t have access to treatment such as medication, psychotherapy, support groups or clinics — or are too afraid or ashamed to look for help — they often end up in emergency rooms, local jails or on the streets. According to one report, about 25 to 30 percent of homeless people suffer some form of mental illness.

This places a heavy burden on police and fire departments and emergency room doctors.


Supporting services that work

Walker said that the new health system has committed to two actions: “First, we’ve created the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness, which will drive a national mental health agenda, and fund research for mental health improvements,” she says. “Providence St. Joseph Health invested $100 million to start this foundation and we will be recruiting other institutions to get this work done nationally.

“Second, in California, Providence St. Joseph Health has committed $30 million of new funds to mental health programs in communities we serve.”

This effort is in sync with the Catholic view of health care. “Whole person care is a fundamental part of Catholic theology,” says Walker. “Addressing mental health is 100 percent consistent with that mission.”

Doctors and other caregivers in the Providence St. Joseph Health system are excited by the new initiative. “Mental health is a critical element of an optimal care team, and many physical issues have mental health components,” she says.


Help and understanding

Walker says the goals of the Institute are to boost programs that offer services as well as promote education about mental illness, including addiction, to help remove the stigma around it.

“Look at any room full of people, and most likely every person there has had some issue with mental health. We want to take away the stigma so that everyone, including family members, can find the right resources they need for help.”