SHERIDAN — Struggling with mental health and addiction issues can be isolating and lonely, but not only do other people face similar obstacles, but it’s OK to ask for help.
Across Wyoming, members of the medical community as well as documentary filmmakers have banded together to spread the word that there is help out there, and there is a path forward.
This year, the Volunteers of America Northern Rockies campus was featured on Wyoming PBS’ “A State of Mind” series, which confronts the mental health crisis in Wyoming. In the first episode, “The Cowboy Code,” Dr. Aimee Foster, VOA’s vice president of behavioral health, discusses the stigma around mental health that can stop people from getting help. In the third episode, “The Lone Wolf: From Addiction to Recovery,” released in November, residential programs in addiction treatment at the Sheridan campus are featured. All three episodes of the series are available on YouTube and on WyomingPBS.org.
“When WyomingPBS approached me about participating, the draw for me was that their mission was to destigmatize treatment and recovery in the state,” Foster said. “We talked about why mental health and addiction issues are so stigmatized in Wyoming, and I think the answer to destigmatizing that is to provide education. This was an opportunity for us to talk about the fact that recovery is possible. People do recover, and we get to be a part of that every day.”
Allowing people to share their stories normalizes discussions around mental health and addiction, and also helps people to feel less alone, she continued.
“There are lots of people in our state who do get help, and connecting those who continue to struggle with those who are in recovery is huge,” she said. “Allowing people to share their stories, and to provide that level of education and normalization, to say, ‘Hey, there are a lot of people who have gone through this,’ helps people realize they are not alone.”
In September of 2021, Volunteers of America Northern Rockies merged with Peak Wellness and Northern Wyoming Mental Health, making the center, which provides inpatient, outpatient and transitional recovery programs, the largest provider of behavioral health providers in the state.
“We go north to south along the eastern side of the state,” Susie Arnold, vice president of residential services said. “That access is key.”
According to Foster, the VOA provides veteran services, outpatient services, residential services and more. There is no income qualification for treatment and the VOA does offer a sliding fee scale so people without income or who are low income can receive services at little to no cost. Residential programs in Sheridan are for adults aged 18 and up, and the VOA also has nine outpatient clinics across the eastern side of the state, as well as veterans services in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.
“We offer outpatient services to people of all ages. Most of our services are regional, and we are the largest provider of behavioral health providers in the state,” Foster said.
This summer, the VOA opened a youth treatment center in Rawlins called Stepping Stones with eight total beds for children aged 12-17. The VOA also operates a women’s facility, a men’s facility and transitional recovery homes in Sheridan, and a men’s facility in Cheyenne called the Harmony House. In Riverton, the VOA runs a social detox and transitional facility called the Center of Hope.
Wyoming’s rural nature can present challenges like isolation or loneliness, but through a network of care like the VOA’s, and even telehealth, Foster said help is out there.
“There are communities where people don’t have easy access to services, education or other people to talk about what they did and how they got help,” she said. “Social isolation is an issue, but with the use of technology, we can expand our catchment areas to make sure that all people have the resources that they need.”
For those in immediate need, the VOA’s website is a good place to start, she said.
“We have a variety of avenues to enter into services, so depending on what the need is, making that call is a great place to start to talk to someone about where to go from there,” she said.
To learn more, visit www.voanr.org. If you or a friend needs immediate help, please call 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, or text “WYO” to 741.741 for the Crisis Text Line.