HELENA —According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), around 163,000 adults in Montana have a mental health condition with around 44,00 having a serious mental illness.
Helena resident Zakaria Crawford knows firsthand what it’s like to live with a mental illness and how it can impact a person’s life. Crawford says he has been diagnosed with several mental health conditions including bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and personality disorder.
"Hearing like voices, like telling you something or somebody talking to somebody. But, then, you think they will be telling you something, but in actuality, they didn't even tell you anything," explained Crawford.
His condition also comes with mood swings.
"Like, laughing, and I will feel so happy. Oh, I am so blessed, and then like a second later, I will start crying for some reason. I wouldn't even know why I am crying."
Crawford is homeless and says finding professional care for his disorders can be difficult.
"A lot of the mental health is overlooked because there ain't really enough...like, psychiatrists and mental health people really around as much as there should be," he explained.
Julie Prigmore, a licensed clinical Professional Counselor at the Center for Mental Health, said, "In general, there is a shortage of providers. There is a shortage of psychiatrists."
When it comes to primary mental health caregivers, like psychiatrists, Montana faces a shortage that will worsen by 2030.
In 2018, a Health Resources and Services Administration report estimated about 100 licensed psychiatrists working in Montana and suggested the state would need an additional 70 to meet demand.
The number of psychiatrists in Montana is forecasted to fall to about 70 by 2030. Thus, growing the shortage of psychiatrists by 90.
There is an effort to address the shortage and increase the availability of care. Those include recent awards from the substance abuse and mental health administration of nearly $18.3 million to be spread out to six Montana mental health community centers.
Some revenue will stream from a 4-year $1.9 million grant from the United States Resources and Service Administration. Students from Montana State University and Montana University would train to better serve individuals with mental health needs.
These programs will bolster outlets for people to seek help like "Our Place" in Helena that help people like Crawford with obtaining vital records and case managers who can connect them to care.
Tasks that Crawford says can be difficult, "We don't know to put yes or no. Because, in our mind, it would be like—to another person, it could be—plain—like, oh yea, that's yes. And, then to us, it would be like if I put, yes. Would that make it no? Or, is this the right one? So, you can't really decide on your own because you haven't really done it yourself."
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has compiled a list of resources to help individuals and families facing mental health challenges.
Prigmore suggests, "The one piece of advice I would say is if you are in crisis. Make sure you say that you are in a crisis and that you need help sooner rather than later. I think that is extremely important."
Click here for more information on Our Place in Helena.