Director of Behavioral Health in Hospitals and Partnerships
Aurora Health Care
Joy Mead-Meucci has made a lifelong commitment to behavioral health, starting her career working with family members as a psychotherapist and then serving as an AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse) counselor. Today, she is Director of Behavioral Health in Hospitals and Partnerships at Aurora Health Care, a leadership position she has held for 20 years. Joy has served on the COPE Services Board of Directors for three years and will serve another three-year term through 2020. She is a resident of Ozaukee County.
Q. Tell us about why you decided to join the Board of Directors for COPE Services. What was your motivation?
A. There is still a stigma for people living with mental illness. Lots of misconceptions. If you are different or you are not available emotionally, I think you can get run over. We need more compassion. COPE Services, which started 40 years ago as a grassroots support group and hotline for Ozaukee County parents, saw a need and filled it with empathetic listening by trained volunteers. With so much digital technology, conversations are harder to come by these days. When in distress, I think it’s reassuring to hear someone else’s voice on the other end of a phone line.
Q. How does supportive listening work? How is it different from a crisis hotline?
A. Our COPE Services Hotline training reflects current information and best practices. Most crisis lines do not have the staffing resources allowing people to stay on the line to listen to what is on the minds of callers. Our volunteers, some who have been with COPE for more than 20 years, provide non-judgmental, informed listening. We offer a safe place for a confidential conversation. This is a vital local resource to anyone feeling depressed, lonely, anxious or unloved.
Q. What does COPE offer that people can’t get from yours or another health care system?
A. The availability whenever people may need assistance is key. All providers in our mental health care system are available to our patients, but not always 24-7. There is a continuum of feelings people with mental illness—or anyone for that matter—have on any given day. They can’t necessarily take themselves to an ER (emergency room) if they are severely depressed.
Q. What changes have you seen regarding the treatment of mental illness in recent years and what more is needed to improve care?
A. Access and affordability are still key issues. If you don’t have insurance, it can take months or even years to get into therapy. In the past, when someone was admitted into a psychiatric hospital you had up to 300 days for treatment. Today, you have four days. For people with serious conditions, recovery can feel like swimming through mud.
The stigma is also still there. When I hear people with mental illness described as crazy, nut jobs, it infuriates me. There is so much disrespect. These are brain disorders. People don’t always see it that way.
At the same time, we are really coming much further. By providing more holistic care. By filling the gaps through outpatient services and nonprofit community programs like COPE’s. We are developing more technology-based services, such as telemedicine. We still have a long way to go. But professionals and other caregivers now recognize that you need a multi-pronged approach to helping people with mental illness.
Q. What does the future hold for COPE Services?
The demand for our services is increasing at a time when we are seeing an increase in residents reporting mental health conditions and a decrease in funding for critical services like ours. Unfortunately, mental illness can be a hidden problem, because of the shame, fear or embarrassment over what other people may think. Yet, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. Many also suffer from alcohol or substance abuse.
I don’t know how you can change this trajectory other than by helping one person at a time. At COPE Services, we offer that individual attention. We listen, intervene in crisis situations, and give resource referrals connecting people to the organizations they and their families need. It is not always easy to recognize when a mental health problem exists or where to turn to for treatment.
More awareness about mental health is important for everyone. We’ve been part of the mental health solution for 40 years. Through our supportive listening hotline, education and outreach services, COPE plans to be part our mental health care community for many years to come.