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Katie’s Story: Reaching Out – and Finding Hope for Mental Health

Katie Valentino is no stranger to dealing with issues like anxiety and depression – and her journey to stability has taken years of hard work.

“I started feeling anxious as a teenager,” she remembers. “Unfortunately, as it progressed, I began self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Those behaviors led to a decade of despair and isolation.”

Looking back, Katie wishes she hadn’t waited so long to reach out for help from a medical provider.

“That’s how it is for many people. When it comes to our mental wellbeing, we often ignore the symptoms until they are at crisis level,” she says. “I overlooked the years of feeling tired for no reason, feeling anxious, and pulling away from the people and things I loved.”

Katie says she didn’t learn to take those subtle changes just as seriously as a fever or infection.

Today, Katie is a behavioral health outreach coordinator at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and serves its members as a peer recovery specialist. These certified specialists open up about their own experiences and struggles with mental health issues to help members understand that recovery is an ongoing process. Allowing members to understand that their wellbeing comes first, without any judgement, also helps them open up and receive the support they need to succeed.

“Sharing my story with them is just as much a part of my recovery as it is theirs,” she explains.

It’s been a decade since Katie found lasting recovery, and while there are still moments of stress and uncertainty, she knows she is in control.

Here are 5 simple steps Katie says can help get you started

  1. First, understand that mental health issues are just as important and treatable as physical health conditions.
  2. Ask your primary care physician for a referral or make a list of behavioral health providers near you that might work for you (BlueCross members can use the “Find a Doctor” tool to find in-network providers).
  3. Decide which provider(s) works best for you and call them to make an appointment.
  4. Book a follow-up appointment with that provider or consider trying another provider if you feel you can connect with someone else better.
  5. Know that recovery is a long-term journey and if you experience setbacks, your healthcare providers can help you get back on track.

Katie’s work was recently honored by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN) when she won the East Regional Suicide Prevention award. Katie began serving as a community volunteer with the organization in 2012, and has served as the East Tennessee Regional Chair since 2016, where she helps shape suicide prevention efforts for the region’s team of volunteers.

Katie’s primary care physician and her specialists all worked together to give her the tools she needed to tackle her anxiety head on – and without relying on other substances, like alcohol.

“I received emotional support, practical anxiety reducing techniques, and healthy coping strategies from my therapist. I received personalized and conservative medication management from my psychiatric nurse practitioner,” she says. “I received compassionate care and support from my primary care physician who was willing to collaborate with both my therapist and psychiatric nurse practitioner to ensure my overall health.”

Treating the whole person

“Once I started working with a therapist and doctor on all of me – my mind and body – I began to recover and rebuild the life I’m very grateful to have today,” she says. “More and more physicians are realizing that they have to treat the whole person if they want their patients to have good outcomes.”

Katie says she looks forward to a future where we only discuss health as a whole, and people see behavioral health the same way they view traditional medical problems.

“I like to say I feel ‘right’ – I’m not an artificially happy person without problems,” she explains. “Now I feel equipped to fully participate in my life and handle whatever comes my way. I trust myself to make good decisions for my health.”

Rachel Stewart

Rachel joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee behavioral health team in 2016. A Chattanooga native, she has a decade of experience in health care content marketing and writing.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

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