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A remedy for rural hospitals: Treating patients away from the ER

Andy Smith, CEO of Appling Healthcare, envisions home visits to chronically ill patients made by EMS personnel

Andy Smith, CEO of Appling Healthcare, envisions home visits to chronically ill patients made by EMS personnel

Patients such as D.C. are known in health care circles as “frequent fliers,” a term that has nothing to do with airline miles.

D.C. (his initials), 62, has been to Appling Healthcare’s emergency room in the South Georgia town of Baxley several times this year with various ailments.

He has no health insurance and no regular physician. But he does have medical problems. D.C. has had several mini-strokes, and he suffers from high blood pressure and bipolar disorder.

“He hasn’t been able to pay his [medical] bills,’’ notes his daughter, Priscilla.

D.C. and other frequent fliers in ERs are the target population for a new program in Appling County that aims to improve residents’ health, boost the local medical system and reduce unnecessary spending.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s rural hospital stabilization committee has designated Appling and three other areas in Georgia for a pilot project scheduled to run 18 months. The program, soon to be fully launched, supports a “hub and spoke’’ model to relieve the burden on rural hospital emergency rooms. It would use telemedicine-equipped ambulances to facilitate remote diagnoses of patients in rural areas.

The other three hospital pilot sites are based at Union General in Blairsville in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Crisp Regional in Cordele in South Georgia and Emanuel Medical Center in Swainsboro in Middle Georgia.

The Deal program gets under way as rural hospitals across the state continue to struggle financially. Four have closed since 2013. Now a fifth, Hutcheson Medical Center in the northwest Georgia community of Fort Oglethorpe, appears on the brink of closure.


One option not on the table


The Deal plan is not the only feasible way to boost rural health care, health care experts say.

Gov. Nathan Deal

Gov. Nathan Deal

Most states have expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, thus giving coverage to previously uninsured adults. For hospitals, that turns many non-paying patients into paying customers. And rural areas have higher rates of people who lack health insurance. One in four Appling County residents is uninsured.

“It is important for the state to invest in projects to improve the communication capability of local health systems and to effectively deliver care to patients in those areas,’’ says Tim Sweeney, a health policy expert at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “At the same time, the state should pursue policies that increase access to health coverage. Most importantly, Georgia should close the state’s coverage gap by extending Medicaid to more uninsured Georgians and bring substantial new federal investment to underserved communities across Georgia, many of which are rural.”

But many hospital officials across Georgia are skittish about even discussing Medicaid expansion publicly. Gov. Deal and his fellow Republicans who control the General Assembly have blocked expansion, denouncing the idea as too costly. And while many Georgia Democrats support expansion, no serious political movement in favor of it has emerged so far.

“Medicaid expansion in the short term would have an immediate [positive] impact,” said Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, an association of rural hospitals in Georgia. “But in the long term, there are major economic liabilities that go along with it.”

Andy Smith, CEO of Appling Healthcare, says, “I look to the governor to have the best information to ensure Georgia does the right thing.”

The new rural hospital stabilization project was seeded with $3 million in the governor’s budget. Each hospital system and county involved had to invest $50,000 each into the project.

Smith has embraced the program. “We expect a very serious return on investment,” he says. “We feel we can make a dent in this. I hope the model will help all rural hospitals.”

The pilot sites are emphasizing telemedicine, school-based clinics and home visits by paramedics to reduce the number of people in ERs and to lower hospital readmissions, says Patsy Whaley, the new executive director of the State Office of Rural Health. A key goal is to decrease the number of ER visits that are not medical emergencies.

The hospital leaders are all targeting frequent fliers, she says.

Meanwhile, telemedicine is helping bringing medical care to places where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have regular primary care office visits with a physician – or to consult with a specialist.

Georgia has been a pioneer in the field of telemedicine, which basically is the transmission of video and digital vital signs of a patient to a physician at another location who can evaluate that information for a diagnosis.

In Hancock County, where there is neither a hospital nor a local primary care doctor, telemedicine is bringing care into the homes of chronically ill patients (A GHN article on the Hancock program is coming soon.)

Digital imaging allows doctors to examen patients remotely

Telemedicine can connect physicians to patients in remote locations


Lewis of HomeTown Health says that by equipping ambulances with telemedicine, “we can create a rolling hospital.”

Dozens of schools in the state now offer telemedicine capabilities to connect students with physicians.

Still, despite these digital advances, rural Georgia still needs more physicians and other health care practitioners in rural areas, Lewis says. “We still have severe shortages in rural Georgia.”

And rural communities have higher rates of people with chronic health conditions.


Poor health and the link to poverty


Appling County certainly has many health care deficits.

County Health Rankings puts Appling 149th among among the 159 Georgia counties in terms of health outcomes.

Appling has high rates of premature death, smoking, obesity, diabetes and child mortality, as compared with the state average, according to the rankings, produced by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Appling County

Appling County

The county has fewer physicians and mental health providers than the state average. Forty percent of its children live in poverty. The county’s median household income of about $36,000 is well below Georgia’s average of $49,000.

“Poverty drives a lot’’ in terms of people’s health status, Smith says. “People not having the ability to properly manage their conditions.”

Employers in the area include the school system, Plant Hatch (a nearby nuclear plant), a lumber mill and other small manufacturing sites, Smith says. Farming is a big industry as well.

Smith, an energetic, longtime hospital exec, came to Appling Healthcare a year ago, and has made some changes to boost the 64-bed facility’s bottom line. One was to eliminate childbirth services, which were causing a loss of more than $700,000 a year.

Behavioral health admissions to the hospital have risen after many beds were converted to psychiatric use. The local nursing home, part of Appling Healthcare, has a waiting list.

“Through intense efforts, physicians working together along with employees, the team has produced a better outcome financially,’’ Smith says. “This facility has struggled in the past. Today we’re on firm ground. We’re in the black.”

Smith says Appling was chosen for the pilot program because of its medical diversity —  having a hospital, nursing home, behavioral health, physician offices and rural health clinics, among other components.

For the pilot project, Appling is pulling together its federally qualified health center, emergency medical services and even the community food bank. EMS and hospital personnel will be doing home visits with an initial target group of about 30 people, Smith says.

“We have some patients here [at the hospital] 30 times a year,’’ Smith says. Avoidable hospital visits are a big financial drain on health systems.

The goal of the project is to improve their quality of care, and to bring health care to patients “at an earlier stage in their illness process,” Smith says. It should reduce costs of ER use and repeat admissions, he adds. Health care officials will seek to connect patients to insurance coverage as well.

But other factors have a role in a person’s health, Smith emphasizes.

“A lot of times, it’s social issues,’’ he says, citing substandard conditions in the home and lack of proper nutrition.

“It’s medication, [which] patients can’t afford or will not take,’’ Smith says. “There could be holes in their home, the cold wind blows in, and they get sick.’’

“We have an 85-year-old lady who needs an air conditioner.’’

Appling Healthcare System

Appling Healthcare’s hospital


Home visits will include checks of a diabetic’s blood sugar. Jimmy Twiggs, the local EMS director, says, “We had a diabetic patient who was unable to fix his meal. His blood sugar was getting low.”

“We’ll be checking the patient early – vital signs, doing well-care checks.’’

They’ll also be checking to ensure the patients are taking their medications, adds Margaret Whitley, the care management director at Appling Healthcare.

County leaders are enthusiastic about the new program. Lee Lewis, county manager in Appling, says the benefit is much greater than Appling’s $50,000 commitment. “We probably have a higher amount of chronic illnesses’’ than many areas, Lewis says.

County Commission Chairman Lewis Parker points to a recent serious vehicle accident in Baxley, noting that Appling Healthcare was literally a lifesaver.

“If we had not had a hospital, we really would be in a bad situation,’’ Parker says. “We’re doing [the pilot program] for all rural counties in Georgia.”

D.C. is one of the first two patients to get help through the new program in Appling County.

He is now connected with a primary care physician and is set to visit a cardiologist. Meanwhile, Appling hospital officials are encouraging D.C. to improve his diet by moving away from soft drinks and processed foods to something healthier.

His daughter Priscilla says, “It’s a great, great program. My dad seems to be happy.”


Disabled vets take the field again — with special sports programs

6.Army veteran Jacques Swafford aims for the bullseye during an archery training session at Panola Mountain State Park

Jacques Swafford aims for the bullseye during an archery training session at Panola Mountain State Park

Sports have proved to be a lifeline for Army veteran Jacques Swafford.

Overwhelmed by depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after an on-duty accident in 1991, Swafford attempted suicide several times, but survived.

“I felt like my world was just coming to an end,” said Swafford, who was injured in a Humvee wreck during Army training in California, shortly before deployment to Desert Storm. It left him in a wheelchair with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

He had never heard of “adaptive sports” until he was hospitalized in 1999 after a suicide attempt. As part of his treatment, he was asked to choose from a variety of sports offered by the VA.

Swafford, who lives in Atlanta, started playing basketball, wheelchair racing and archery, among other sports. Now, at 57, he says he “does it all,” and is racking up medals at different sporting events across the country.

“Sports really helped me. It takes my mind off the disabilities that I have and makes me look at the glass half-full instead of half-empty,” Swafford said after archery practice at Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge.

The archery program is run by BlazeSports America, which last September became one of two Georgia organizations awarded VA grants to help more veterans like Swafford forge new relationships and improve their health and well-being.

Atlanta-based BlazeSports won two grants totaling nearly $215,000, while another Georgia group, the Adaptive Golf Association, was awarded almost $125,000.

All told, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs distributed $8 million in adaptive sports grants to 65 organizations across the country. BlazeSports is one of only three groups that received more than one grant.

Spawned by the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, this nonprofit organization introduces children and adults with disabilities to adaptive sports, such as archery, hand cycling, and track and field events. The VA grant provides nearly $129,000 for boccia and $86,000 to start a veteran soccer


The ‘most accessible’ game

Boccia is a ball game designed for people with motor disabilities. It is an event in the international Paralympic Games, and BlazeSports is boccia’s governing body in the United States.

“What’s cool and unique about boccia is that it is the single most accessible sport in the world,” said Sam Zapatka, who coordinates veterans’ programs for BlazeSports. “Anyone with any physical disability can play the sport of boccia.”

YouTube Preview ImageHis organization will use its new VA funding to hold three weeklong boccia and soccer training camps for veterans this year. They hope to identify talented veterans who can compete in the Paralympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Officials at the Adaptive Golf Association, headquartered in Atlanta, are similarly excited about their new VA funding.

“We’re really on top of the world,” said David Windsor, director of instruction for the Adaptive Golf Association. They’re already using their grant to underwrite golf programs at eight VA hospitals in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana.

PGA and LPGA professionals are spending eight weeks teaching 15 wounded warriors to play. The program is free and includes customized clubs and balls. Specialized rigs enable people with limited use of their arms, and the pros are also working with VA therapists and caregivers to fine-tune each veteran’s training program.

All six sites in Florida already have their programs under way, and the other two hospitals are gearing up to start.

Although all the spots are filled, Windsor said interested veterans should not be discouraged. More camps are planned in the future, and will welcome vets regardless of age or injury.

“We want them to be able to live their life to the fullest, enjoy this game, learn it, and use it to their advantage,” Windsor said. “There are really no barriers.”

BlazeSports has specific criteria in mind for its soccer and boccia programs. For boccia, it is recruiting quadriplegic veterans; for soccer, it is seeking veterans with stroke damage or traumatic brain injuries.

Boccia and soccer camps will be held in Atlanta, and each will enroll 12 veterans. Veterans are being recruited for the soccer camps that are going to be held this month, and in April and August. The boccia camps are planned to start in April, May and July. Airfare and accommodations are included.

“Everything is 100 percent funded and provided for them,” Zapatka said. “So, all they’ve got to do is show up.”


A life-changer

Zapatka has worked with veterans for nearly two years, and he has become a believer in the power of adaptive sports to change lives.

“It’s been an unbelievable change − spirit, mind and body,” Zapatka said. He teaches archery, discus and hand cycling, as well as other sports, to veterans with disabilities.

Sam Zapatka helps a veteran with his bow during archery practice at Panola Mountain State Park

Sam Zapatka helps a veteran with his bow during archery practice at Panola Mountain State Park

When the injured veterans come together, Zapatka said, they talk more and gain more confidence.

“I think it’s really good for them to see veterans with the same disability, and seeing things that they can also do,” he said. “Because it gives them that little hope [to say], “I can do that, too.’ ”

Swafford feels the same way. While his symptoms of PTSD and depression have not disappeared, he said, they have become more manageable.

“When I’m competing or practicing, it makes me forget the things that I cannot do,” he said. “It makes me look at the things that I can do and achieve.”

Last year, Zapatka trained Swafford and others for the National Wheelchair Games in Philadelphia and the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Championships in San Mateo, California.

“He is one of our top athletes,” Zapatka said. “[Coaching] was unbelievable. It was awesome to see his hard work pay off.”

He came home from Philadelphia with gold medals in shot put, archery, discus and javelin; plus a silver medal in weightlifting. He also earned silver medals in shot put and discus in San Mateo.

Swafford is going to try out for the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field team in April during the Southeastern Regional Games in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“[Winning] gave me hope and a lot of joy,” Swafford said. “And knowing that being an athlete in high school and in the military, it brought back the competitive spirit that I had.”


Hyacinth Empinado is a freelance journalist in Athens. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in health and medical journalism at the University of Georgia.


For more information about BlazeSports’ boccia and soccer camps, contact Sam Zapatka at For more information about the adaptive golf program, contact David Windsor at or call at (941) 650-5750.


Answers to addiction: Program uses questions to help find a solution

Tony Sanchez addresses a group in Athens planning a symposium on recovery from substance abuse.

Tony Sanchez addresses a group in Athens planning a symposium on recovery from substance abuse.

Tony Sanchez has been drug-free and alcohol-free for more than a decade.

But until age 35 he smoked marijuana, free-based crack cocaine and drank alcohol on more than a regular basis. His habits and lifestyle contributed to an armed robbery conviction that landed him in prison for three years, as well as multiple parole violations that repeatedly put him back behind bars.

Today, it has been more than 13 years since he stood up among a group of strangers and introduced himself as an addict.

Sanchez credits his recovery both to the 12-step program of  Narcotics Anonymous (NA) — a well-known group similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) — and to a lesser-known method that relies on motivational interviewing.  He encountered this alternative in jail when a social worker introduced him to it.

Motivational interviewing is a way of asking people questions so they come up with their own conclusions about themselves. They are not told what to call themselves (e.g., addict, alcoholic) or even whether they need help. They learn to assess, in their own terms, what changes they’d like to make in their lives.

The motivational technique resonated with Sanchez, who says it empowers people to find the power to change within themselves.

Now as the project manager at the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse and the co-founder and president of PLR Athens, a peer-led recovery center, Sanchez has a mission to help others see that they can recover from overuse of alcohol or drugs.


Trying whatever works

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to beating addiction. Fortunately, multiple pathways to recovery are available here in Georgia, and coordination among them is improving.  The Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, and the Georgia Parent Support Network have teamed up to showcase the range of recovery resources available.

YouTube Preview ImageIn 2015, these groups will host nine recovery symposia across the state — in Athens, Augusta, Savannah, Thomasville, Demorest, Dublin, Columbus, and Atlanta.  Dates, times, and locations will be posted on the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse website as they are finalized.

People in Athens have a variety of places to go for help. There are roughly 18 AA meetings and four NA meetings in Athens every day. Attendance is free, although donations are accepted.

In these meetings, people from all walks of life introduce themselves to the group as alcoholics or addicts, without having to give their full names.  While many people respond well to the 12-step method, others are not comfortable with the spiritual element of the program (though it is nonsectarian). And some are uneasy with labeling themselves.

Larry Walton, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker in Athens, says some people may benefit from choosing to refer to themselves as addicts, but it’s not a label that society should place on them.

Walton is co-founder of Recovery Café in Athens. This counseling and treatment center encourages people to move at their own pace toward recovery, which may or may not include a 12-step program.

Walton and colleagues serve as a sounding board for individual clients, using motivational interviewing to help people find their own steps to freedom from drugs and/or alcohol.


The law gives a nudge

Sanchez and his partners at PLR Athens also believe there are many ways to overcome addiction.  The name PLR stands for “peer-led recovery,” and it’s a free drop-in center, open Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 to 10 a.m.  There are no doctors, clinicians, or therapists in the organization, only people who have been through recovery and who can help others find their way.

cover“Words are extremely powerful,” says Sanchez, “and one of the biggest barriers to people getting treatment is stigma.”

Sanchez’s long-term recovery began while he was incarcerated, when he worried about transitioning back into civil society. How would he stay sober?

It’s a common problem.  The Georgia Department of Corrections says that up to 80 percent of offenders have substance abuse issues.

While Sanchez found his turning point in jail, not everyone reaches that point voluntarily.  The majority of Walton’s clients come to Recovery Cafe because a judge has ordered them to get treatment for drug or alcohol problems.  “The court system doesn’t necessarily emphasize personal choice,” Walton says.

It is a mistake to think that addiction is confined to certain socioeconomic levels.

“Addiction doesn’t have any boundaries, skin color, it doesn’t care where you’re from. When it’s your turn, it’s your turn,” says Sanchez.

Public and private agencies hope that their 2015 symposia will help coordinate community care, reduce the stigma associated with addiction so that more people will seek care, and reduce the number of people incarcerated for crimes related to drugs and alcohol.

Sanchez works tirelessly to raise awareness about people making their way toward recovery.

“We’re really quick to televise the travesties of addiction, but nobody wants to talk about the successes.  That’s why I speak so loudly about it.  We need to know that recovery is real.”


Ansley Stewart is pursuing her master’s degree in journalism at the University of Georgia.  She is a freelance writer, musician, and also works full time at UGA.  



The loneliness of a grieving child: Where does help come from?

Genevieve Liu (center, at podium) sings at a memorial service for her father in Chicago. Photo credit: Jamie Manley/Chicago Maroon

Genevieve Liu (center, at podium) sings at a memorial service for her father in Chicago. Photo credit: Jamie Manley/Chicago Maroon

Two years ago, Sicily Kolbeck, 12, of Marietta designed a 128-square-foot house as part of a school project that she planned to work on with her dad.

But before the two could complete the tiny house, her father was killed in an automobile accident. With him gone and with grief overcoming his daughter, the construction came to a halt.

Coping with the loss of a close friend or family member is among the hardest challenges that a person can face. The challenge is even more difficult when a child loses a parent.

JoAnna White, of Georgia State University’s Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, says that in the initial stages of grief, activities that brought pleasure are often no longer of interest, especially when they are closely related to the deceased parent.

“When a child loses a parent, it is the most significant and difficult loss that they could experience, and they will deal with it the rest of their lives,” says White.

Children in this situation need constant, loving support from the surviving parent and other family members who are also grieving.

If this support is provided, eventually children can get beyond the inward stage of grief and begin to focus on their lives again. None of this is simple or easy, but if children can get there — giving of themselves outwardly, rather than handling everything inwardly — that is therapeutic in itself, says White.

“Following any parental loss, we have minimal mental energy in the beginning,” says White. Later, giving back can be very beneficial, she adds. And that’s what happens as part of the healing process.

The interior of Sicily Kolbeck's house project

The interior of Sicily Kolbeck’s house project. Credit: La Petite Maison blog


As Sicily Kolbeck recounts in a recent Huffington Post blog, she hoped that completing the house would begin to provide the life skills that really mattered, such as using tools for construction.

Ultimately, with the help of the community and a few friends of her father’s, her tiny house was completed. Only then was Sicily ready to move on with her teenage life, she says, as well as to move from Georgia to Maryland with her mother.


Building new connections


“The deeper you love, the longer you grieve,” says Trudy Post Sprunk, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Atlanta area.

“For children, if there is a close relationship, the longer the healing process will take,” Sprunk says. This is especially true with the traumatic death of a parent.

Research shows that most people can recover from loss on their own. But it takes time, social support and encouraging healthy habits.

Dr. Donald Liu

Dr. Donald Liu

In Chicago, Genevieve Liu’s father, Donald, a pediatrician, died in August 2012 after trying to rescue two children caught in a strong Lake Michigan current. The two children survived.

It’s a tragedy that Genevieve will never forget.  But she wanted to go beyond just remembering. She wanted to help others.

She built a website during her healing process. The site, called, was created to provide a supportive community where users can discuss what they’re going through after the loss of a parent.

“Genevieve is an amazing and articulate individual who has found such healing in developing this website,” Dana Suskind, her mother, who is also a physician, said in a Chicago Tribune article.

Now 14,  Genevieve says she was inspired by her friendship with a classmate whose mother passed away. It was after her friend’s loss when she decided to create SLAPD: Surviving Life After a Parent Dies. This is a website where young people can find a sense of community and, hopefully, some solace, says Genevieve.

“The mission is to let a lot of people who’ve lost a parent know they’re not alone and to gain strength from each other,” she says. “I think there’s huge power through community.”

Here in Georgia, Christen Bartley graduated from Columbus State University last year without three people she had once hoped to see smiling in the audience: her mother, father and sister. The three perished in a plane crash in July 2012.

The graduation was difficult for Christen. But she focused on “how lucky she was to have them for 23 years. Not everyone is that fortunate,” she told the Columbus State News.

It’s getting back up and finishing what was important to your loved ones before their deaths that helps, experts say.

Sicily Kolbeck says, “Sometimes when people get a hard knock, they stay down. I didn’t. That’s my claim to fame. I didn’t only want to show it is possible to live with less waste, and that anyone can build their own house; I also wanted to show that when I was handed lemons, I not only made lemonade. I made a lemon cake. And I ate it. And it was delicious.”

Here’s a video on Sicily and her house from her blog La Petite Maison:


YouTube Preview Image







Judi Kanne, a registered nurse and freelance writer, combines her nursing and journalism backgrounds to write about public health. She lives in Atlanta.




Williams’ death underscores powerful link between depression, suicide

Robin Williams entertains U.S. troops stationed in Iraq in 2010.

Robin Williams entertains U.S. troops stationed in Iraq in 2010.

The death of brilliant comedian and actor Robin Williams shows how depression can devastate even someone with worldwide fame and success, mental health experts said Tuesday.

Williams, 63, died Monday of an apparent suicide. His publicist said Williams was battling severe depression. The actor who starred in such films as Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Morning, Vietnam had also struggled with alcohol and cocaine abuse.

Last month, Williams went into rehab at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota, and was expected to stay there for several weeks.

His death “shows anybody can become suicidal, no matter how funny, comical and happy they may seem,’’ said Nadine Kaslow, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. “It shows that depression is a big risk factor for suicide.’’

The work of a comedian such as Williams, she said, “can be a cover for distress and pain underneath it.”

Suicide rates differ by age, gender and race, Kaslow said, with older white men at higher risk.

Kaslow said she hoped that Williams’ death leads more people into treatment for their illness.

The tools of psychotherapy and medication and substance abuse treatment “can be extremely helpful’’ in helping someone cope better and giving them hope, Kaslow said.


The damage of substance abuse


Dr. Bill Jacobs, an addiction medicine specialist at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, said Tuesday that Williams’ death “is not just about depression; it’s also about addiction.”

Abusing cocaine and alcohol over years “can really change [a person’s] brain,’’ Jacobs said.

Robin Williams at a 2011 movie premiere.

Adding a depressant drug such as alcohol with depression symptoms “is a setup for bad things to happen,’’ he added. The risk of suicide is much higher for someone with a substance abuse problem, “especially with a co-occurring psychiatric disorder.”

Mental health consumer advocates in Georgia said Tuesday that they were shocked by Williams’ death.

“It shows you how serious depression really can be,’’ said Ellyn Jeager of Mental Health America of Georgia.

Depression can affect people of all economic classes, she said. “Money doesn’t determine whether or not you’re well.”

Jeager said Williams’ death underscores the importance of getting treatment.

She said the state of Georgia has a good suicide prevention program, through the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, but she added that it needs more funding.


Recognizing depression symptoms


Pat Strode of the Georgia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that the science of mental illness has advanced significantly in the past decades, but that more progress needs to be made. “There’s still not enough information about these illnesses,’’ Strode said. “There’s not enough treatment.’’

What should people do if they suspect they have depression?

Strode said people need to know the symptoms, and then seek treatment if they recognize they have signs of the illness.

The severity, frequency, and duration of depression symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

If insured, people with depression symptoms should visit a doctor or mental health specialist with their health plan, Strode said. But if they don’t have insurance, they can get help through the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 800-715-4225, she said.





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