In this three-part series, the Sentinel examines the mental health needs that face Dare County.
Local experts, surveys highlight the need for care here
Twelve years ago, Manteo physician Dr. Walter Holton stood in front of the Dare County Board of Commissioners and identified mental health care as one of the most serious health issues facing the community.
“I hear heartbreaking stories from families…and not to have the same level of care as someone that has cancer,” he said, citing a lack of adequate mental health care at that time. “…Untreated mental illness is devastating to the person, the family, and the community.”
Examining the local mental health network
The mental health care system in Dare County has seen challenge and change over the past decade as local officials, public health advocates and mental health providers have tried to adapt to – and worked to overcome – the barriers of being a remote county in a state that has often had a poor track record of addressing mental health issues.
Mental health can no longer be a ‘hush hush’ topic
Michelle Hawbaker, program supervisor at PORT Health Services, recalls evidence of the stigma attached to seeking mental health care when PORT began operating its mental health and substance abuse center in Nags Head about a decade ago.
“For the first couple years, a lot of people we would have to let in the back door…and we are happy to do that still,” she said. “But it used to be pretty regular for people to park [behind the building] and come in the back.”