HUNTSVILLE — According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 41% of Alabama adults sought medical treatment for a mental health issue between 2017-2019.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic about 4 in 10 adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorder. That number is up from one in 10 adults who reported those symptoms from January to June 2019.
Whether seeking help for alcohol abuse and drugs or depression and anxiety, accountability and social support are instrumental to the recovery process, and that is the support Wellstone is providing Madison and Cullman County residents.
“One of our goals is to create better access to mental healthcare,” said Jeremy Blair, CEO of WellStone, a nonprofit recovery center headquartered in Huntsville. “But there are a lot of forces at play.
“For instance, it is an interesting time. More people are seeking mental health treatment than ever before, while at the same time, the mental health industry doesn’t have the workforce locally, statewide, or nationally to absorb the demand.
“So, for us in the mental health field, that has been a growing area of concern for a decade, and a lot of the workforce problems are due to poor reimbursement rates and poor funding of community mental health in general.”
People who are in training to be therapists or attending a master’s program, and even those coming out of college with bachelor’s degrees in pursuit of a career in case management, find providers cannot pay competitive wages, he said.
“So, the issues are trickling up and we’re seeing the results of decades of poor funding on the community level in particular,” Blair said. “There are simply not many people willing to go into a field that’s not financially viable.”
But that does not stop WellStone from continuing to grow and add services.
In 2011, when Blair arrived at WellStone, the facility had a handful of programs and 200 employees. Today, the center will operate 70 programs and, between the two facilities in Huntsville and Cullman, there are 450 employees.
“We are growing and bringing as many of our services to the public as we possibly can,” Blair said. “We have advocated strongly the last few years with our legislators and the governor’s office. Montgomery has been funding new programs, but our message lately is – we need to fund our existing programs and staff our existing programs.
“If you don’t have staff to support your programs, then you’re not going to have services you can deliver. We chose to raise salaries and fund our programs and grow.”
Part of that growth is the new $10 million onsite 24/7 WellStone Crisis Center, officially opening Monday at 4020 South Memorial Parkway.
The state put up $3 million for the construction with an additional $2 million from the Madison County Commission, the City of Huntsville, and the City of Madison.
WellStone has initiated a capital campaign – “Be the Rock” – to fund the remaining $5 million. To support the campaign, click here.
WellStone’s longstanding annual “Beacon of Hope” fundraiser comes in May. For more information, click here.