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Genesis Behavioral Health Offers Integrated Mental and Primary Health Services

By S. Mathur

The World Health Organization defines mental health as "a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community." The absence of this state of well-being can have serious consequences for individuals and communities. With one out of four adults and one of five children suffering from mental illness, it is a serious public health issue.

Mental illness can be devastating for individuals. Apart from limiting their activities and achievements, it can impact their health and reduce their life spans. Kristen Welch, Director of Development & Communications, says that "People with mental illness die, on average, 25 years younger than other Americans. Studies show that individuals with serious and persistent mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, are at increased risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and nicotine dependence."

Genesis Behavioral Health is a private non-profit organization that has been designated as a community health center by the State of New Hampshire. Founded in 1966, it offers a range of programs and services to help those suffering from mental illness and emotional distress. These include from 24/7 emergency services for individuals in crisis, short-term therapy for those experiencing a life altering event, such as death, divorce, or illness and a wide range of support services. Special programs for adults, children and seniors address age-specific issues.

InSHAPE is a health development initiative which, says Welch, is "committed to improving this poor outcome and improving the health of our patients. The goal of InSHAPE is to improve physical health and quality of life, reduce the risk of preventable diseases, and enhance the life expectancy of individuals with serious mental illnesses." The program partners each participant with a trained Health Mentor, to create a Self Health Action Plan for Empowerment (SHAPE) which includes physical activity, healthy eating goals, and attention to medical needs. The Mentor acts like a sort of fitness buddy, joining the participant in ongoing activities in the community until he/she is comfortable enough to go alone.

Through OneHealth, an integrated primary and behavioral health care program, GBH now also brings primary health care to the mental health center. In partnership with the HealthFirst Family Care Center in Laconia and the Mid-State Health Center in Plymouth, this program is intended to serve those who don't feel comfortable seeking medical help or going to the doctors office. Welch explains that "Often, our patients aren't comfortable going to a doctor's office, which leads to the poor outcomes described above. By bringing their primary health care to our facility, we can provide support and a "warm hand off" to help them become more comfortable and improve their health."

Besides health care, support programs help patients with a range of services, including housing, employment and even transportation. Recognizing the importance of mental health for the individual and the community, GBH is committed to the mission to "provide integrated mental and physical health care for people with mental illness while creating wellness and understanding in our community."

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