After seeing a spike in mental health cases in the veteran population in Madison, Katie Bautista emphasizes the need for not only physical health care, but also mental health advocacy to be a focus in the community. She has seen the negative effects of mental health struggles in her own family and with high unemployment rates in the Madison area among veterans, Bautista’s work is crucial.
Bautista has worked for the Madison VA hospital for seven years. While she started as an entry level employee, she now manages the Community Care Department to ensure all veterans receive proper and sufficient health care in a timely manner.
What do you think is the biggest challenge our community faces?
Right now, I think [it’s] reconnecting. During the pandemic, we were just so isolated and I think it gave people an opportunity to explore themselves in an isolated setting— what they want and their comfort levels. Now, how do you come back out, mingle and socialize and implement the things you discovered? Mental health awareness is so ‘out there’ both positive and negative. People became [more] aware of their mental health or issues, so how do you meld that together as a community and move forward? I think the big challenge for us is going to be the next steps coming out of the pandemic.
What do you wish people in our community understood better?
Maybe just understanding boundaries but not cutting off inclusiveness. Being able to accommodate and being empathetic is part of that. You don’t want to treat everyone with kid gloves but you want to be able to meet them in the middle. I think sometimes as a nation or even just in our small community here, it’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you have a very strong view on something. I think that is one thing I wish more people were aware of— being open and communicating better.
What is one change you would make if you could that would make life better for people in our community?
I think from the health care side and my experience there, I would like there to be more resources for mental health. Right now, mental health is a huge issue in my line of work with veterans and [the] increase in suicide. It’s something [in] the population I’ve always been aware of but now you hear it all over the news. I’ve experienced this personally with my brother who lives with me [and] discovering resources for mental health. I wish there were more resources and if there wasn’t this taboo that we can’t talk about [mental health]. I wish our community had more, or just in general, there were more available resources.
What in our community gives you hope?
I think we have such good outlets for different things, really for anything. You go to the [farmer’s] market [or] any of these community events and I think you have such a nice melting pot of not only people but opportunities for learning new things or growth. There’s a Saturday market and you get to interact with so many different people in different walks of life. I think that is something that’s really unique about our community and our area.