Goal: ‘Screen everybody’ for mental health

Joseph Lucas (File photo courtesy Servants Center)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A 19-year-old who walked away from a Grand Rapids group home earlier this week without his medication has been found.

Joe Lucas was found Wednesday night in Greenville. His dad has brought him back home to Grand Rapids, but Ken Lucas said he’s worried his son will wander away again — and that next time, he might not come back.

Ken Lucas said he adopted his son when the boy was 9. Since then, he said, Joe has been diagnosed with psychiatric conditions.

Lucas said the last 10 years have brought him clarity.

“I was one of those people who used to drive down Division Avenue and look at the people and say, ‘Why don’t they go just go get a job?'” he said. “Reality is half of them can’t function to get a job. I know that now, but I didn’t then. I was ignorant back then.”

He said he’s hoping for the best, but doesn’t think there’s much that can be done to help his son.

“It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. His life path is set and if he leaves again, he won’t be coming back,” Lucas said.

Lucas said he thinks earlier mental health intervention would have made the difference for his son.

Dr. R. Corey Waller from Kent County mental health aid organization Network180 said earlier screening and help is closer to becoming a reality for everyone.

“The goal is to screen everybody — literally every person should be screened for depression and anxiety, risk of suicide, risk of addiction,” Waller said.

Waller stated as much as 60% of the population suffers from anxiety, depression or addiction.

He’s working with members of the state’s mental health commission to meet that goal. He said that in the near future, those screenings will be the norm, not the exception.

“At this point, it comes down to if you don’t screen correctly, then you can’t find,” he said. “The screenings are absolutely going to encompass early childhood up through adolescence and through early adulthood.”

The goal is to use information gathered to diagnose potential problems early on and get people the help they need.

“If we want to know who is at risk, we have to ask the questions,” said Waller. “So we are going to screen and everybody is going to be screened so nobody feels like they’re being picked on and in that way we’re going to not miss those patients are going to have to screen.”

Screening for depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues already happen in Spectrum Health’s emergency department. Waller said all state emergency departments should do that by the end of the year, and the goal is for those screenings to soon spread to doctors’ offices and schools.

“We do testing all the time in schools, right? That’s what you do. You go to school, you take a test,” said Waller. “So one of these things you’re going to take a test for coming up is risk of depression, risk of anxiety, risk of substance abuse and these things will be incorporated into the way in which schooling is done.”

“The biggest issue is we need to start to understand that it does take a community to really own these problems, Waller continued. “It can’t just be the things that are whispered about in the back hallways.”

New screening procedures and resources — like mental health workers — to intervene and help people with mental health concerns are expected to be in place by the end of 2016, Waller said.

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