Study highlights mental health issues in southwest Michigan

Trent Watford stands at the grave of his son, Nathan // WSBT 22 photo

A new report shows mental health is a major issue affecting people in southwest Michigan.

The report shows mental health – including substance abuse issues – is the number one health need in that area.

All this comes from a research project done by a local healthcare organization.

Nathan Watford

“I think for a long time you don't really believe it happened.”

In 2010, 20-year-old Nathan Watford – who at the time was serving in the Navy – committed suicide. His parents learned he had been battling depression for years.

“I think it's almost an epidemic that's going on,” said Nathan’s father, Trent.

Trent has turned his mourning into a mission. He helped launch the Berrien County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

So, it wasn't a surprise to him that a new research project found mental health needs in the area weren't being met.

“Without a doubt the community is saying we are hurting and we are experiencing real problems with mental health, and we need more resources to address the issue,” said Trent

The research

Dr. Lynn Todman helped drive the Lakeland Health research project. More than 1,300 people were engaged in the process, and 50 to 70 percent mentioned mental health – including substance abuse – as a problem for the area.

“It includes things like depression, anxiety and high levels of stress – but it also includes things like substance abuse, drinking, heroin, cocaine use and marijuana as well,” said Todman.

Now the hospital is looking for evidence-based ways to meet those mental health needs and implement them.

It is early in the process, but Watford says time is of the essence. There are others in this cemetery who were lost to suicide.

“It really makes me feel like we need to try to do more,” he said. “It is something that doesn't have to happen.”

All tax-exempt hospitals must do these health needs assessments and publicize their findings in accordance with the affordable care act.

Coming up on October 11, Lakeland is sharing the results of its Community Health Needs Assessment. It is free, but you have to sign up by September 30.

For more information or to register, please email or call (269) 556-2808.

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