Mental Health Month: ‘It takes courage to seek help’

Published 2:30 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2024

By Bobbie Curd

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories for Mental Health Awareness Month in May. This month serves as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of mental health and the resources available for those in need.

Alicia Broadwater says that as a military spouse and nurse of 30-plus years, she’s seen a lot of different people from different parts of the world, from different socio-economic groups and races.

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“Mental health doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about your status, your money, anything. We’re all dealing with something …” whether concerning ourselves or a family member, she says.

And as director of the inpatient unit for behavioral health at Ephraim McDowell, Broadwater knows all too well about the stigma associated with mental health issues. She and her team work to help patients overcome those pressures, and how to refocus on themselves.

“Here’s the thing – we all battle with mental issues, but no one sees it or talks about it. If you have a broken arm, you see it. So – out of sight, out of mind.”

The inpatient unit attempts to get patients “as healthy as they can be in a short time frame,” sometimes in order to protect them from hurting themselves or others, she says. The hospital is an acute setting for behavioral health, meaning patients are treated for a brief period of time for severe episodes of illnesses.

“We’re not going to ‘fix’ everyone, but we can get them the tools they need to go out into the community and help themselves.” Broadwater says these are the people we go to church with, who we see at Walmart or McDonalds.

“They can be your kids’ teachers … Even your doctor.”

Alicia Broadwater, director of Ephraim McDowell’s behavioral health unit, says she finds patients who ask for help to be extremely brave and courageous. “To come into the ER and admit ‘I cannot do this on my own’ takes amazing strength. That’s how I see those patients.” photo submitted.

She’s been a nurse for 31 years, but didn’t get into psych nursing until five years ago. “Thirty years ago, you had to do (additional training) and other things before getting into psych – it was considered a specialty …” and since they were always moving, that wasn’t possible.

They relocated back to Lexington at the end of last year, after years moving around, and Broadwater was working on a hospital children’s unit. “This opportunity came up here and I wanted to come back to psych …” and her husband has retired.

She had already worked at a behavioral health company in Fort Knox, first as a nurse until the opportunity arose to become unit manager on a dual psychiatry unit. A dual unit is when substance abuse is also a factor in addition to a psychiatric diagnosis. Broadwater says she works with a great team. “I think that in order for our community to be as healthy as possible, we need people to work in mental health. It’s a necessity.”

Behavioral health is in a locked unit at Ephraim. Many patients start in the emergency room, after meeting criteria to be brought up, she says.

“A lot of times it’s due to patients who stop taking their meds, after they’ve started feeling really good and think they don’t need them anymore.” And once they stop, they can slide back down a rabbit hole, finding themselves having bad thoughts and anxiety, sadness or suicidal ideations.

Those who are admitted on a voluntary basis agree to get back on medicines and work on becoming stabilized. “They do therapy – art therapy, group therapy, all different things throughout the day …” a process usually taking anywhere from seven to 10 days.

“In these situations, it’s more to get them back on track, feeling good again and get back to therapy.”

When they leave, Broadwater says they are set up with the meds they need and any follow-up appointments with outside providers.

“The hope and goal is that they go to therapy on a stable basis, so they can move forward …”

An interesting side-effect she’s learned is how better patients become when they’ve been forced to be “unplugged.” They don’t have access to their phones while in treatment, something most patients freak out over at first, she says.

“And I’d say 95% of them leave saying they’re so happy they didn’t have their phone.”

Broadwater also tells her patients, sure – mental health does have a stigma. It’s why some don’t want to stay on their meds, she says.

“I tell them you have glasses on – you’re using something to make you see better. If you were diabetic, you’d need insulin. There’s no difference from that and behavioral health – you’re using medicines to help you feel the best.”

And she thinks we most likely haven’t seen the last of the lingering effects from the global health pandemic. “I think COVID brought a lot of things to the forefront, and I also think it caused a lot of problems for some people.”

We were isolated, there was a fear factor, people were watching family members die but couldn’t get to them, Broadwater says. “For our kids … second-graders were scared to death and we’re all masked-up. I think we’ll see a big ramification, that’s my personal belief.”

But, she says health professionals are better equipped now. “We’ll be more ready to handle it.”

Broadwater says she’s happy mental health is being discussed more. “But a lot of people are silent about it. I’m so thankful for the ones who come in … To come into a hospital ER and say ‘I need help, I can’t do this’ – that is humbling and it is courageous.”

She takes a long pause and then apologizes.

“I guess that’s what I’d want others to know. It’s brave to be able to know you need help, that you can’t do it on your own.”

Broadwater says her advice to someone who is experiencing a friend or family member in a mental health crisis is to find an expert to talk to. “You have to find out how to better equip yourself to help that person, because every situation is different.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a hotline set up to help anyone in crisis. It can be reached by texting or calling 988, or sending an online chat at