For many people who deal with mental illness, the struggle is complicated by physical ailments as well. In the worst cases, they can face a downward spiral of increased illness, mentally and physically.
Muriel Gray works to reduce and end that spiral.
As Healthcare Home Qualified Mental Health Professional for Tri-County Mental Health Services, Gray’s key focus is connecting Tri-County clients with the health services they need, while providing support and treatment planning. That simple description masks a reality that’s more complex than it might sound.
Many mental health clients are often isolated. The stigma that still surrounds mental illness can make it difficult for them to seek medical help in the first place. Then, even if they see a doctor, they may find it difficult to describe their illness and have difficulty expressing themselves at all.
“Mental health clients often have issues with their health that they can’t communicate to their doctors,” she explained. “But if they are sick, I can refer them to where they can get help. Then I follow up and make sure they’re following their health goals and doing what they should. We’ve found that physical and mental health are often connected, and treating one without treating the other won’t help them get better.”
A recent case illustrated her work. A Tri-County client endured back problems that brought chronic pain and constant weight gain. A series of surgeries didn’t bring much help, but then she worked with Gray and a nurse care manager at Tri-County. Now, the client is following a good diet, losing weight and making better health choices.
“I’m proud of her,” Gray said. “She feels better, and things are looking up.”
That kind of help is good for almost everyone, but for someone with an illness such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder or diabetes, the assistance can be life changing. “It can make a huge difference in a person’s life,” Gray said. “They may get treatment for something for the first time in their life. And it also means another person is listening to them and giving them the resources to meet their goals.”
In the recent example, the idea “that someone has your back” played a big role. The client saw that others recognized the challenges she faced and could provide some help. “She realized we cared,” Gray said. “She kept saying, ‘You all were here for me.’”
Gray joined Tri-County last year after nine years as a case manager and two years as a care coordinator with a program in Kansas. Unfortunately, the organization was forced to close because of budget issues. Then she saw Tri-County’s opening. “I thought, this is perfect,” she said. “I have the background and everything. It’s a great fit.”