Statistics on mental health in the 2022 Biden-Harris Report on Mental Health reveal that two in five American adults report symptoms of anxiety and depression. More than half of parents express concern over their children’s mental well-being. Over 40 percent of teenagers state that they struggle with persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
A recent study published in part by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 90 percent of U.S. adults believe that our country is facing a mental health crisis. Nearly 50 percent of those who believe there is a crisis also noted there was a severe mental health crisis in their own families. Compounding this crisis is a shortage of mental health care workers, as well as options for care.
Miller-Dwan Foundation and its board of directors are responding by meeting the mental health crisis head-on. The aim is to make a real and demonstrated impact that will create a healthy, resilient region free from mental health crisis.
“My passion—what has sustained me throughout my career—is the privilege of providing care for people who are likely in their most vulnerable state of being. Meeting people, being present, understanding the pain, the stress and strife. It is humbling.”—Rick
To ensure that it is able to develop the initiatives that will make this bold vision a reality, Miller-Dwan Foundation has added psychologist Rick Gertsema, MS, LP to its staff as its mental health senior advisor. Gertsema brings 40+ years of experience—working in every possible mental health setting in the field—to this new position.
“My passion—what has sustained me throughout my career—is the privilege of providing care for people who are likely in their most vulnerable state of being,” says Gertsema. “Meeting people, being present, understanding the pain, the stress and strife. It is humbling.”
The past 25 years of Gertsema’s career have been in mental health related roles at Essentia Health. Ten of those years have been in leadership positions, including three years as Manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health for Essentia Health’s East Region. He is also the author of a book titled Peaceful and Practical Parenting.
“There was a mental health crisis before the pandemic—we were already there,” says Gertsema. “Because of the pandemic, however, rates of depression and anxiety skyrocketed 20 to 30 percent. We are all living in sustained trauma, dealing with lingering day-to-day uncertainty. It has affected kids, young parents with kids at home and underserved populations the most.”
Gertsema’s goal, and the goal of Miller-Dwan Foundation, is to look at creative ways to address the current crisis—ways not thought of before.
“We can transform the way mental health care is delivered,” says Gertsema. “We can address access to care and the current shortage of healthcare workers. We can expose long-standing cracks in our care infrastructure and provide the right level of care at the right time to meet the needs of our region.”
Since he started with MDF in November of 2022, Gertsema has been exchanging creative ideas and solution-building with connections from all over the world. He’s connected with the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, and institutes out East. He’s also studied the Biden-Harris Report on Mental Health. Those connections and that research have led to the formation of relationships with mental health experts, activists and providers from around the globe, one of whom recently stated: “Miller-Dwan Foundation, welcome to the global mental health community.”
What has emerged from the vision of Miller-Dwan Foundation and its board of directors, with the help of Gertsema in his role, is HopeX. This revolutionary response to eliminating the mental health crisis in our region is a multi-phased approach that will see Miller-Dwan Foundation implementing a holistic and comprehensive effort that involves:
- Collaborating with international partners in the use of an evidence-based innovative model for the expansion and mobilization of a boots-on-the-ground mental health workforce.
- Improving access to proven therapies.
- Introducing new services.
- Addressing the dire need for mental health support in underserved portions of our region through the expansion of facilities.
The mental health crisis requires ongoing attention and the support of advocates and leaders. Miller-Dwan Foundation intends to be that leader and to gather advocates ready to put meaningful solutions to work.
“Incredible things are happening internationally and in the U.S.,” says Gertsema. “My role as mental health advisor and my experience as a former clinician allows me to get people connected who need to be connected. Together, we can generate creative ways to transform mental health care in our region, our state, and beyond.”
“There is hope. We are moving forward with the gift of Rick Gertsema by our side,” says Traci Marciniak, Miller-Dwan Foundation President. “He is a true force for good and with his help we will create a healthy, resilient region free from mental health crisis. Join us.”