Tyler Norris, the new Chief Executive of the Providence St. Joseph Institute
for Mental Health and Wellness, wants to boost community efforts that
are working to ease suffering
Alcoholism, depression, anxiety, drug addiction — these are forms
of mental illness that millions of Americans suffer from every day, often
with shame, hiding the reality from friends, family and co-workers.
This is exactly why Providence St. Joseph Health has recently invested
an initial $100 million toward the creation of the Institute for Mental
Health and Wellness. Its purpose is to find ways to alleviate the stigma
and the suffering that mental illness causes.
For Tyler Norris, MDiv, the newly appointed chief executive of the Institute,
addressing the stigma is a priority because it keeps people with mental
health problems from getting help. “We need to be able to talk about
mental health issues—anxiety, depression, substance abuse—the
way we talk about physical issues. We need to model that as a health system.”
Addressing the stigma of mental health problems is just one of five goals
for the Institute. The other four are to build resilience in children,
teens and families; reduce suffering from depression, anxiety and social
isolation; reduce substance abuse; and create hope for people with serious
and persistent mental illness.
Norris admits that these goals are ambitious, but when he starts his job
in early January, he and his colleagues will begin by finding out what
programs are already successful in those five areas.
“We are entering a discovery phase, to listen to communities,”
he says, adding that he will be working with Maureen Bisognano, a nationally
regarded expert on mental health and founding chair of the Institute’s
Advisory Council on Mental Health and Wellness. “We will be very
actively traveling to learn about existing institutions, and to hear about
peoples’ perceptions about priorities—I’m very much
looking forward to it,” he says.
The idea is to bolster successful community-backed programs that are already
in place. “We want to build on existing initiatives, and leverage
with communities to grow what is working,” says Norris.
Removing blame and shame
Substance abuse, particularly the rise in painkiller and heroin addiction,
is a significant part of the country’s mental health problems. In
his groundbreaking November 17 report, “Facing Addiction in America,”
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called addiction to drugs and alcohol a major
public health challenge.
About 27 million adults suffer from some form of substance abuse disorder,
according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration—and
only about 10 percent of them are getting treatment, out of fear of discrimination,
shame, denial, or lack of access to help. Underlying addiction for many
people are unresolved mental health issues.
“The important thing is to integrate mental health and substance
abuse into primary care,” says Norris. “And second, we need
to look at substance abuse as a treatable chronic disease, not a moral
failure.” He adds: “We need to open that conversation so that
people with addiction get support they need.”
Norris, 57, was born in Hoag Hospital, and now lives with his family in
Northern California. He is keenly aware of the mission of the Sisters
of Providence and the Sisters of St. Joseph. “Many aspects of our
lives impact our health, including access to education so young people
can reach their God-given potential,” he says. “And social
justice goes right to the heart of the Catholic mission to help the poor
and vulnerable, to look after those who struggle the most. We are firm
that our Institute will live out the mission of our foundresses.”
(This story originally appeared in OC Catholic, December, 2016)