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When I received the Dunn County News on Jan. 2, I was really happy to see there was an article regarding the Monarch House opening.

Monarch House is a mental health respite, funded by the state of Wisconsin, that recently opened in north Menomonie. It offers free one- to five-day stays and peer support for people struggling with mental health or substance abuse.

Until last month I was the Vice Chair of the PAIMI (Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness) council and had the pleasure of touring several mental health care facilities during my tenure.

I’ll never be able to forget the experience I had while visiting Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh. Not because there was some dramatic event that happened; rather, it was the several adults I met who were there only because there weren’t any other options closer to home.

Not only is this disruptive to their lives, but it’s very costly for the counties that send these children and adults.

One individual was someone I initially thought was a staff member, only to learn he was there because he had endured a traumatic event around the same time he was going through an extensive medication change.

These simultaneous events were more than he could handle.

Ideally, he would have had a less restrictive option where he could have continued to receive the support he needed to work through the emotions he was dealing with, while also accessing the support with his medication change.

He could have remained working without fear of losing his job. For those with a mental health diagnosis, consistency is crucial.

When my husband and I adopted my younger sibling, we were well aware of the mental health challenges he was already dealing with.

Throughout all the struggles I am incredibly thankful for the support we were able to find.

It’s not an exaggeration to say the child psychiatrist we were referred to changed our life. We went from watching the seven-year-old pick up a heavy oak chair and throw it across the room, with the force of a full-grown man, to a child who asked questions and expressed his feelings when he disagreed with our request to brush his teeth.

We lived near Milwaukee at the time and were very lucky to have had several psychiatrists and counselors to choose from. Even with support, there were a couple of times when we found ourselves considering an out-of-home placement.

Medication changes were horrific. When we changed one medication, it often caused a reaction to another.

He struggled with communication so he often wasn’t able to describe to us how he felt other than with his behavior.

I was working as a Special Education teacher. I thought if someone could help him, it should have been me. Truth is, I had no idea what to do. My husband and I were at the mercy of the supports available within an ever-changing system.

After moving to Menomonie we were very hesitant to change to a new child psychiatrist, if we were lucky to find one. Instead, every six months we drove to Milwaukee.

Then one morning I received a call from a friend who lives in the Milwaukee area. She asked if I had seen the news regarding the beloved child psychiatrist. She explained he had been arrested and charged with several crimes.

We were devastated. The one person who had brought stability and safety to our lives was gone.

I mention the situation with my brother’s former doctor, because I think too often people don’t understand the amount of change those with mental health disabilities have to endure regarding providers.

Even when they are able to locate someone, caseloads and numerous other factors often result in a change of providers.

In my current position, I work with youth and their families who are diagnosed with a disability. Many of these individuals are also diagnosed with a mental health disability.

One youth recently mentioned she is about to start working with her fourth doctor in three years.

My excitement about the Monarch House opening is also because I have spoken with individuals who wish they would have just had someone to talk to in a time of crisis. Their expectation wasn’t that someone was going to fix their situation, but having the ability to talk and problem solve options could have been the difference between hospitalization and retaining their independence.

My sincere wish is that the community of Menomonie will embrace Monarch House’s success as I will.

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Tricia Thompson is a school board member of the School District of the Menomonie Area.

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