If you live in Bayfield, Ashland, Douglas, Burnett, Sawyer, Washburn, Polk, Barron or Rusk County in northwestern Wisconsin AND you have a serious mental illness, you have a less than 40 percent chance of getting help. If you have a substance abuse problem, the chances are even less.

While stunning, these stats are not all that different from many other parts of the nation. A lack of psychiatry, limited awareness, misunderstandings and most of all, dismissal politically, economically, and socially of mental illness have contributed to the problem. Though it can be deadly, on a scale of one to ten, mental illness falls well below the status of heart health, diabetes, even arthritis. In short, mental illness is simply not a money maker.

That’s where the Miller-Dwan Foundation comes in. We specialize in supporting care that is economically difficult to manage. And none is harder to manage than mental health care. Still, in northwestern Wisconsin, the Miller-Dwan Foundation believes that with the right plan, mental health care can be both highly effective and economically sound.

The right plan is Partial Hospitalization Programming or PHP. It’s a plan the Miller-Dwan Foundation is tackling for Superior.

PHP is intense mental health and substance abuse, group therapy that falls somewhere between weekly one-on-one appointments with a psychotherapist and full in-patient psychiatric hospitalization. Programming occurs during the day –– six hours a day, five days a week, for up to three weeks. New patients will rotate in every three weeks adding a layer of beneficial peer-to-peer support.

PHP’s in Superior don’t currently exist, but Duluth PHP staff have story after story of patients who’ve lost jobs, quit or got kicked out of school, or lost children to the justice system. Eighty percent of them turned their lives around. Jim provides a somewhat unexpected (but not unusual) example of how an investment in PHP can generate economic and quality of life benefits.

Jim was a mechanical engineer. He was also an alcoholic. While he was always first in the office, he seldom accomplished the days’ tasks. He always had a bottle in his desk and often returned from lunch with the smell of alcohol on his breath. He was disruptive and losing money for the firm. He’d already lost his wife; now he was on the verge of losing his job. At the recommendation of a co-worker, he enrolled in a Duluth-based PHP. Ten years later, he has not had a single drink. He has a new job and a new wife and the energy to volunteer for several community organizations. “I learned that alcohol is just not good for me,” says Jim.

The program’s intensity allows adults to quickly make progress, see results and get back on their feet. “Clients can make a year’s worth of outpatient therapy [one-on-one] progress in the three weeks of a partial hospital program,” says one PHP provider.  “Three weeks gives them a baseline of skills and enough time with staff to plan a program for ongoing care.”

With the help of the community, the Miller-Dwan Foundation will build out a new healing space in the St. Mary’s Hospital – Superior, which will be designed specifically for PHP. “We’re starting small, but we fully expect to expand to meet the need,” says Miller-Dwan Foundation President, Traci Marciniak. For now, the foundation is working to raise $250,000 to get the new PHP started. It’s a project that’s long overdue. It’s also a project with great potential to address a significant need.

“Having an Adult Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) in Superior,” says St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior Administrator, Terry Jacobson, “will provide residents needing behavioral health services an alternative to inpatient care.  Typically, patients would need to travel great distances in WI to receive behavioral health care, and now we will have an alternative right here in our community.”

If you’re interested in supporting new mental health programming in Superior, click here, or call us at (218) 786-5829.

Additional Wisconsin statistics worth noting:

Wisconsinites with serious mental illness are 26 percent more likely than those with any mental illness to have a substance use disorder.

Wisconsin’s rate of mental illness for those ages 18-25 is slightly higher than the national average. The prevalence of mental illness is higher for those from minority populations, (2017 Wisconsin Mental Health and Substance Use Needs Assessment, Wisconsin Department of Health Services).

The state’s ranking for access to mental health care dipped significantly from eight out of 51 to 35 out of 51 (Mental Health American, 2018). Clearly there’s enough work to go around.

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Together we will realize our shared vision of a community free from mental health crisis.