New local option available for psychiatric care

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Kenai MediCenter is hoping to open people's minds by expanding its facilities to include psychological services.

The clinic, located in downtown Kenai, recently added a psychiatrist and therapist to its staff in an effort to better serve the community's mental health needs. The new mental health professionals, Jennifer Lothian, M.D., and Hugh Fisher, M.S., have been treating patients for about three weeks.

Last week, they sat down for an interview where they discussed the need for expanded mental health services in the area and what kinds of things they hope to accomplish in Kenai. Both said they're excited about coming to Kenai and are hoping to build upon their small list of patients.

"It's been a little slow so far," Lothian said.

However, it's not always easy for people with mental and emotional problems to seek out help right away.

"To seek it out, you have to tell yourself you're not feeling mentally healthy," Fisher said. "That's a big block for people."

Both said that as the holidays approach, now might be the best time for people feeling down to look for help. That's because many mental health issues pop up around the holidays, when people may be prone to feelings of loneliness and depression. And when cold weather is added into the equation, people have a hard time taking the first and most important step to recovery, Fisher said.

"One of the avenues for dealing with mental health is that you have got to get out there," he said.

Many people in the area elect to treat themselves with drugs or alcohol, which often can make the problems worse. Lothian said she welcomes people with substance abuse problems, since most of the time drug and alcohol abuse goes hand in hand with mental health. And although they aren't in the business of substance abuse counseling, Lothian said, it's just natural that people with such problems could still seek help dealing with their mental health needs.

"The last time I checked, Alaska still had the highest per capita usage of alcohol in the nation." she said. "There's a great overlap of substance abuse and mental health issues."

Both Lothain and Fisher said they try to help patients overcome their problems by enabling them to find ways to deal with the world in new and positive ways. They focus mainly on getting patients move involved in the world around them, as well as helping them find happiness within themselves. It's not always easy, but it's a critical component of good overall health.

"Self value and self-esteem, as well as other areas, we can talk to them about," Fisher said.

"...You have to tell yourself you're worthwhile."

Lothian said most often, people's mental health problems are caused because people are unable or unwilling to deal with the issues head-on. That's where therapy can play an important role, because it enables people to find ways to solve their own problems.

"I call it learning to get out of your own way," she said.

Everyone can work to improve their mental health, but in order to do so, they must take the first step. And that's just what psychiatrist Lothian and therapist Fisher want to help their patients accomplish.

"It's going to be your own best subject," Lothian said. "But it has to be learned."

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