May is Mental Health Month
Risky Behavior Can be a Mental Health Warning
Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic (YVFWC) is celebrating May as Mental Health Month.
This year’s theme, “Risky Business,” calls attention to the damaging actions that individuals often undertake that mask underlying mental health issues. Very often mental health issues don’t seem like mental health issues at all.
“As a rule of thumb, it is important to prioritize conversations about emotional health and healthy behaviors in all situations where physical health is also discussed,” Dr. Brian Sandoval said. Sandoval is YVFWC’s Primary Care Behavioral Health Program Manager.
“We have behavioral health consultants (BHC) on site who are able to provide a brief intervention or consultation as a regular part of the patients’ primary care visit,” he added. “Risky behaviors can be defined as when someone may use substances to ‘self-medicate’ instead of seeking professional mental health guidance.”
Daily stress can seem so minor that the idea of a few beers at night to sleep doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Patients do not always consider their stressors to be mental health related, but something that has to be dealt with as part of life. Sandoval says it is vital to address even the smallest mental health symptoms early, identifying potential underlying causes, and develop an appropriate course of action to eliminate risks and set a course for taking control of your life.
Recognition of risky personal behavior could save you from a life of pain and suffering, due to decision made under mental duress.
“We encourage anyone who wants to, to visit a BHC, or mental health professional,” Sandoval said.
BHCs at YVFWC medical sites meet with patients who, for example, use marijuana to alleviate stress or anxiety instead of seeking out professional health or family support. In reality the chemical compounds in marijuana can affect the brain in a way that makes anxiety worse, leading to depression and other more serious health problems like lung cancer or emphysema. Others mask their mental health issues with compulsive shopping, unsafe sexual encounters, and even causing damage to one’s own body.
Sandoval says behavioral health comprises a surprisingly large group of individuals in the general population, with 10-15 percent of primary care patients having either anxiety or depression. Often these statistics do not include other common concerns such as insomnia, stress, and other variables that impact a patient's ability to manage their health each day.
“In order to effectively address behavioral concerns it is important to be where patients feel safe. It takes a lot of courage to admit when we hit a stumbling block. Studies actually show that patients prefer receiving emotional support in a primary care setting due to its familiarity and ease of access,” Sandoval added.
Encouraging patients to be seen by a mental health professional in the comfort of their regular doctor’s office, helps lessen the stigma of behavioral health treatment. The brief encounter affords people a trusted place to open up about the small stressors in their life that have large impacts on sleep, work, and other facets of daily life.
“If you deliver behavioral health in the context of medical care and just call it health care, we are better able to give our patients well-rounded health care that is needed to live healthy lives.” Sandoval added.
“It is important to understand that any issue causing a person to lose sleep, eat compulsively or take dangerous risks, is something that should be addressed,” Sandoval added. “History has taught us that these are often early warning signs of underlying mental health issues that can be treated and overcome.”
Integrating behavioral health into Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinics began in the early 2000s in Toppenish. Now, there are 13 behavioral health consultants in 10 clinics in Washington and Oregon. The YVFWC locations that employ the behavioral health consultants are in Yakima, Toppenish, Grandview, Walla Walla, two locations in Spokane, Hermiston, Portland, Salem, and Woodburn.
“May is Mental Health Month” was started 66 years ago by Mental Health America to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone. Mental Health America, its affiliates, and other advocates from around the country have celebrated Mental Health Month every May since 1949.
For more information on May is Mental Health Month, visit Mental Health America’s website at
About Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic: The Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that provides comprehensive medical, dental, and social services for more than 141,000 people throughout the Pacific Northwest. Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic employs 1,390 full-time staff and more than 600 part-time staff, medical residents, dental residents, students and volunteers. Facilities: 19 medical clinics, 10 dental clinics, 57 programs. Locations: Washington State clinics are located in Grandview, Prosser, Pasco, Spokane, Sunnyside, Toppenish, Yakima, Walla Walla and Wapato. In Oregon, clinics are located in Hermiston, Portland, Salem and Woodburn. Visit: www.yvfwc.com