Our mind and body exist in a codependent relationship, unable to function or exist without the other. Despite their equal importance, I never quite understood why I, personally, have always heard the emphasis placed on maintaining strong physical health without much mention of the importance of mental health. Just as poor physical health inevitably causes low contentment and mental state, our minds can achieve the same effect on the body by altering our physical states and metabolic processes. As a Behavioral, Social, Health Education Sciences student at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, I have had the privilege of observing the intersection between public health and mental health firsthand. The curriculum has motivated me to seek mental and behavioral healthcare internships such as Morehouse School of Medicine’s Community Mental Health Care Worker pilot program (CMHCW). Adapted from the High School Students and Young Adults Community Health Worker training program, the CMHCW pilot program aims to expand the role of volunteer community health workers to include mental and behavioral health services.
Morehouse's program utilizes a Community Health Worker Model. According to Georgia Watch, Community Health Workers (CHWs) are frontline health workers who are trusted members of and/or have demonstrated working knowledge of their communities and individuals served. This trust stems from the cohesion of understanding the communities CHW’s serve through shared cultures, languages, and life experiences. CHW’s play a pivotal role in the realm of healthcare professionals as they work to promote the healthcare system in a multitude of environments - both urban and rural. CHW’s also receive training to help in the following ways: for example, they provide culturally appropriate health education and information, assist community members to receive the care they require, give informal counseling and guidance on health behaviors, advocate for individual and community health needs, and provide some direct services such as first aid and blood pressure screening. Given their perspective, trusted role, and expertise, CHWs can help address health disparities. Morehouse’s CMHCW program utilizes the Community Health Worker Model as a foundation and trains Community Mental Health Care Workers in motivational interviewing, cognitive behavior therapy and other counseling methods. While we were not able to provide these services on our own, we worked as liaisons for providers to add a layer of mental and health support and interventions.
Community Mental Health Care Workers can bridge the gap between public health and mental health, by combining the practices of CHWs and behavioral health specialists. I believe it’s important to remind ourselves that patient care is not limited to physicians, nurses, and clinic/hospital staff; Community Mental Health Care Workers can also be critical members of the care team. They can lend a hand in providing services and support to those most in need of it, and provide care for high risk individuals that might not have the time or resources to visit hospitals or clinics. With preventative approaches and tailored support to help community members achieve individualized health goals, CMHCWs can help communities achieve greater physical and mental health outcomes.