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VOL. 128 | NO. 235 | Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Living Well Network Battles Depression in the Mid-South

By Michael Waddell

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The Dennis H. Jones Living Well Network and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare are seeing increased activity in the second year of helping people navigate depression, stress and the challenges of life.

The Living Well Network, the only of its type in the country, serves people suffering from anxiety, depression, risky drinking or suicidal thoughts or those seeking to help someone who may be struggling with one or more of these conditions. The network helps people gain access to mental health treatment in the community.

Depression affects 121 million worldwide, and it is among the leading causes of disability, according to Living Well Network stats. While it can be diagnosed and treated, fewer than 25 percent actually have access to treatment.

“We have to start a dialogue about mental illness and depression,” said Debbie Jones, whose husband, Dennis H. Jones, took his life on Dec. 27, 2009, after years of suffering with depression. “In the times that we live in, I think people tend to hide it because there is still a stigma attached to it. I believe it’s like a cancer of the mind, and without treatment it can be terminal.”

Dennis Jones was a successful IT entrepreneur and former FedEx executive vice president and chief information officer. After spending 25 year with FedEx, he started Securas, a computer consulting firm for small- and mid-sized businesses.

Debbie knew he had taken medication for depression for quite a few years, but she did not know the extent of the problem.

“He hid it from me very well. He hid it from everyone very well,” said Jones, who met her husband in high school and married him in 1974.

Following his death, Debbie Jones wanted to find a meaningful way to honor his memory. She spoke with Rick Kirchoff, her pastor at Germantown Methodist Church, and the two approached the Center of Excellence for Faith and Health at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in hopes of creating a program to help those suffering from similar conditions.

Jones gifted an initial $1 million, and LWN began its work in March 2012.

“I wanted to do something to help people and their families to understand depression and to know that they could get help,” Jones said. “Dennis was a very kind and giving person, and this way even in his death he is still able to continue giving and helping others.”

The original contribution is being portioned out at $250,000 per year for four years, and the network also relies on donations.

Callers are connected to a health care professional that will speak confidentially with them about concerns and will connect them to resources based on their personal needs. Primary care physicians also use the network to connect their patients to services and resources.

The network partners with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network; the Memphis Crisis Center; the Memphis, Arkansas and Mississippi Conferences of the United Methodist Church; and the Congregational Health Network through Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.

The network is a collaborative effort among primary care physicians, behavioral health providers, clergy, concerned citizens and the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Local businessman Michael Drake is a volunteer for the Living Well Network and is serving as its spokesman. Drake’s grandmother committed suicide when he was 18, and he has a history of anxiety, depression and mental illness in his family.

“Anxiety and depression affects one in every four to six people in our community,” Drake said. “I don’t view it as weakness. It is an illness that deserves conversation and treatment.”

Drake founded a technology company, Master IT, eight years ago, and the company competed with Securas before Dennis Jones took his own life.

“When he took his own life in 2009, it had a profound effect on me and the story I would like to tell,” said Drake, who focuses on the presence of depression and anxiety in the workplace.

According to independent studies, 26 percent of employees are noted to need mental health care.

“Many times symptoms manifest themselves in risky drinking or drug use. Twelve percent of employees abuse alcohol or drugs,” Drake said. “As business owners, it affects us every day whether we realize it or not. The EAP, which includes the Living Well Network, is a very inexpensive and confidential benefit to give to employees.”

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare runs the day-to-day operations of the LWN, led by executive director Donna Tosches.

“When a person calls in we do a telephone assessment, so they are always talking to a licensed counselor, and from there we direct them to an already existing service in the community,” Tosches said. “We have had 350 calls since we began on March 1, 2012, and this year those calls have skyrocketed.”

Tosches hopes to establish a stronger presence with primary care physicians.

“If we pay attention to behavioral health issues in primary care physician practices, we will have patients who are more compliant with treatment plans, who stay out of the emergency rooms, and who live better, more complete lives.”

LWN’s Front Porch website also offers assessment tests for anxiety, depression and risky drinking, and suggestions for recovery, including details on “12 Pathways” identified by the LWN that individuals can choose from as possible ways to manage depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse.

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