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Mental health service changes leaders, looks to future

July 8, 2015

The Herald-Times

Southern Indiana was facing serious unmet mental health needs when Maureen Gahan first started working for Stone Belt in 1984.


Twenty-five years ago, Gahan and those who worked at agencies supporting people with developmental disabilities were transitioning individuals out of institutions and back into their communities to live in residential programs.


“They had pretty significant mental health disorders, and there weren’t services in local communities to treat them,” Gahan said.


The high demand for mental health services in the area was still evident in 2000, when Stone Belt began offering outpatient services for individuals with co-occurring mental health and developmental disabilities. And in offering mental health services, Stone Belt psychiatrists found an additional underserved population: children and children with developmental disabilities. And in offering mental health services, Stone Belt psychiatrists found an additional underserved population: children and children with developmental disabilities.


In her more than 30 years with Stone Belt, Gahan has seen mental health services expand in south-central Indiana through Stone Belt’s Milestones Clinical and Health Resources division. Milestones, which Gahan has served as director for 15 years, offers outpatient psychiatric services, individual and group therapy and behavioral health assessments and support plans for children ages 3 to 18 and individuals with disabilities of all ages.


Gahan sees another impending shift in the care of people with mental illness and disabilities. The continuing implementation of the Affordable Care Act will change how doctors prescribe medication and how their patients pay for services. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will be fully implemented as of Oct. 1. And Milestones will continue its 15th year with a new director.


Jim Wiltz, a clinical psychologist and former head of Benchmark Services’ Crisis Services for southern Indiana, will fill Gahan’s role in August, and Gahan will retire from Stone Belt Sept. 30.


Social service agencies will often bring community concerns such as a lack of mental health resources to light, but feel overwhelmed in trying to address them, Wiltz said. Not every agency creates a program such as Milestones in response.


“To go out and actually do something about it and then also offer it to the community at large … it’s a pretty impressive type of initiative,” Wiltz said.


Wiltz, a Bloomington native, earned his undergraduate degree in psychology at Indiana University. He attended Ohio State University for his master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical and intellectual and developmental disabilities. He has also worked in residential services and as a group home manager.


“It was really fortunate that Jim came forward and said he was really interested,” said Leslie Green, CEO of Stone Belt. “Although he doesn’t share the same experience with Stone Belt (as Gahan), he certainly has the clinical background and knows about individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”


Finding mental health professionals with experience in treating individuals with disabilities can be difficult for service agencies like Stone Belt, Wiltz said, as medical school education and additional training programs don’t often address treating patients with these needs.


Patients across the state and country need treatment for anxiety, behavior challenges, mood disorders and other mental illness issues. In Indiana, 24 percent of adults receiving developmental disability services from the state have anxiety disorders, 27 percent have mood disorders and 34 percent have behavior challenges, according to National Core Indicators.


“A psychiatrist could easily have gotten out of medical school, have done a complete residency and never once had an encounter with a person with intellectual disability,” Wiltz said. “The same goes for psychologists and other types of therapists.”


Both Gahan and Wiltz are excited about the upcoming changes to their field and Milestones. As access to information increases and the stigma of mental illness eases, parents are seeking interventions for their children earlier, which Wiltz said decreases lifelong costs associated with mental illness.


“More and more parents are thinking, ‘I want to do what’s exactly right, and I don’t really care if the neighbors are really worried about my kid having a mental disorder,’” Wiltz said.