I’m a visual learner. I learn best when I “see” the concept I’m trying to understand. That’s why I was so struck when listening to Dr. Richard Afable talk about how many people actually suffer every day from some form of mental illness. I interviewed Dr. Afable, executive vice president of Providence St. Joseph Health’s Southern California Region and president and CEO of St. Joseph Hoag Health (below), on the field at Angel Stadium, just prior to an Angel game. He explained that as many as one in every five individuals are impacted by some level of mental health challenge. The healthcare provider delivered these compelling stats to a stadium full of fans in an effort to put an end to the stigma associated with the condition, and to create awareness of the resources available to help. As I listened to Dr. Afable, I glanced at the baseball stadium that was the backdrop for our interview. I did the numbers in my head and then looked at the crowd: If one in five people are impacted, in a stadium with a capacity for 45,000 attendees, that’s 9,000 people. That’s a lot of people!
One of them, a patient who was literally saved by the caring people at St. Joseph Hoag Health’s Mission Hospital Laguna Beach, was about to throw out the first pitch, calling attention to the staggering number of individuals suffering from everything from depression to schizophrenia. I asked “John” about the path that led him to this point. He admitted he had been lost, frustrated and had considered taking his own life. He spoke so eloquently about his experience, and said that he now knows “there is hope.” As he recounted where he had been and how close he was to being suicidal it was clear that the painful experience had hit hard. Thankfully, now it is just a memory. He credits the St. Joseph Hoag Health program for his recovery. He was smiling. He was confident. Yet, he was clearly humbled by the experience and so very willing to encourage others to ask for help.
St. Joseph Hoag Health is a good place to begin. They are determined to end the stigma associated with mental health–the stigma that keeps people from talking about it. Because that is where recovery begins–with a conversation. While a typical visit to the doctor may include the standard lab tests and a focus on one’s physical health, the healthcare provider is striving to set a new standard so that an assessment of a patient’s mental wellness is also conducted during a routine visit.
It’s often said that if you have your health, you have everything. Today, that includes mental health.