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Community health interventions are generally a highlight during medical school, so it’s no surprise that once students become doctors, many blaze a humanitarian path outside the office to serve their community and care for the underserved. Summit Health Behavioral Health Psychiatrist, Lauren Kaplan-Sagal, MD, is no exception. In the workplace, Dr. Kaplan-Sagal’s job is to help those who schedule an appointment, but she is painfully aware that there are many people who are not convinced they need help or are too ashamed to seek it. “And that,” she says, “can be a very dangerous thing.” She adds, “Mental health issues have a serious impact on physical health and are associated with the prevalence of some of today’s most serious chronic diseases. If untreated, mental health conditions can have harmful and long-lasting effects—not only for those living with the disorder, but also for their families and communities.”

As a Westfield resident and an area mental health provider, Dr. Kaplan-Sagal was enlisted by Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle for the Westfield Mental Health Council, a town organized group whose goal is to bring members of the community together with mental health stakeholders to break the stigma that surrounds the illness, coordinate the sharing of resources, identify prevention measures, and establish programs to help community members. Tasked at the start with determining how to reach individuals who ignore or are unaware of their struggles, Dr. Kaplan-Sagal and several other council members developed the C.A.K.E. initiative. C.A.K.E. stands for the four critical “ingredients” - Compassion, Acceptance, Kindness, and Empathy - of a stigma-free community. Right now, the group’s efforts focus on spreading this acronym and educating on the importance of talking openly.

Although COVID-19 slowed their fieldwork, it did not slow their commitment. “Mental health conditions are increasing at an alarming rate, and this initiative is now more important than ever. It’s critical that people feel comfortable with their emotions and safe enough to reach out without fear of judgment,” says Dr. Kaplan-Sagal.

It’s evident that giving back is woven deeply into the fabric of many of our health care providers, and in a time like this, we’re especially proud to have Dr. Kaplan-Sagal on our team providing a path to wellness for ALL.