Finding a path forward

How Sarah Farmer has found resilience and hope in the wake of tragedy

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Around Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, most people know Sarah Farmer.

She’s a local — born and raised in Brunswick — and a nurse. When Brunswick County natives come to the hospital, they will often ask for her. Even though she is removed from day-to-day patient care now that she’s the hospital’s manager of accreditation and clinical regulatory, she still makes her own rounds, visiting friends and other members of the community.

“We may not be related, but it still feels like family,” she said.

And family is everything to Farmer, which makes the stories she’s begun to share quietly with individuals and small groups all the more difficult to hear.

Over the past decade, behavioral health issues have had significant effects on Farmer’s family, taking the lives of both of her children. Sometimes she can share these intimate details of loss without crying. Sometimes she struggles to hold back the tears. But she continues to share in the hopes that what happened to her family won’t happen to another.

“I don’t want any other family to go through what we went through, to feel like they just don’t have a way out or can’t find help,” Farmer explained. “This disease — it doesn’t just affect one person. It affects their entire family.”

Farmer’s story is an important one, like many others, and now is the time to spotlight them: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And although the COVID-19 pandemic has come to dominate healthcare conversations, behavioral and mental health issues continue to impact families like Farmer’s every day.

Across the country, 1 in 7 adults have a mental health condition of some kind. More than one-quarter of adults experience some type of behavioral health disorder in a given year. Brunswick County reported 162 heroin overdoses and 28 deaths from January to June of 2019. At the same time, the county has one mental healthcare provider for every 1,310 residents, while the national average is 490 to 1.

The pandemic is making matters worse. Almost half of Americans say the crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. At the same time, a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered an increase of more than 1,000% in April, compared to the same time last year.

In 2019, Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center Foundation embarked on a campaign to address those issues. The goal is to raise $3.5 million to increase services and access to behavioral health treatment and resources, including expanding the hospital’s emergency department to include additional resources for behavioral health patients; creating a comprehensive behavioral health outreach network across the county; incorporating telemedicine into local schools to give children access to mental health resources; and supporting education programs on prevention and treatment.

The campaign is called A Path Forward, a name that resonated with Farmer.

“When the foundation decided on the name, I remember being so excited because that’s truly what this journey has been for me, a path forward,” she said. “I wanted to spotlight the need in the area for assistance and how Novant Health is stepping up to help provide for that need. I just wanted to do anything I could to help.”

While Farmer shares her story willingly with those who need to hear it, she doesn’t make a habit of looking back.

“We talk a lot about resilience at Novant Health,” she said. “One of the things I feel resilience means is the ability to move in a positive direction. Adversity does not have to take you down. It’s important that we rise up and move forward because nobody is going to benefit if we don’t. And from every horrible thing that happens, we need to try to pull some good.”

For Farmer, the good has come in the form of stronger community connections, deeper relationships with her three granddaughters and the ability to help those around her.

“If we put resources out there where people can see the light at the end of the tunnel, they’re going to go through it. But if they can’t see it or find help, they may not get out of bed,” she said.

These days, Farmer thinks a lot about the impact of COVID-19 on behavioral and mental health. She thinks about her healthcare colleagues who have been on the front lines. She thinks about the children who lost the remainder of their school year and the associated rites of passage — graduation, prom, college visits. She thinks about the fact that she can’t hug people, and Farmer is definitely a hugger.

“When I’m out in public, I don’t meet many strangers. I never have,” she said.

All of that reinforces the importance of continuing her work now, when the need is greater than ever before.

“You will be affected by this pandemic in some way,” Farmer said. “Let’s all come together and work on fixing it.”

You can do your part, too.

When you contribute to our campaign, A Path Forward, you’re helping expand access to lifesaving behavioral health services in the Brunswick community.

We hope you’ll consider a donation of any amount today.

Donate now