Mental Health Awareness Month Community Spotlight

For Mental Health Awareness Month, United Way of Salt Lake is highlighting a community partner providing critical mental health services and resources to the community. 

The Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) is part of the University of Utah Health system. They provide direct health services and psychiatric care in their hospital facility, conduct innovative brain research, and facilitate highly competitive general psychiatry and triple-board residency education programs in the School of Medicine. 

The mission of HMHI is to “advance mental health knowledge, hope, and healing for all,” and their vision is to “free the world from mental health stigma, bring an end to suffering, and integrate mind and body to improve life for every person.” 

HMHI traces its roots back to the Department of Psychiatry formed at the University of Utah in 1948. In 1986, the University of Utah Health and Western Institute of Psychiatry was formed through a unique private-public partnership. This eventually became the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) in 1994. In 2019, the Huntsman family made a historic gift of $150 million to the institute, establishing the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.  


A Culture of Compassion 

Danielle Valdez, LCSW, leads community outreach and referral services for HMHI. Valdez has been working for the organization in various positions for over 12 years. In my role, I do a lot of work with community partners and organizations who are also doing incredible things to support the mental health population, as well as interfacing with community members to offer education on mental health resources and answer questions on how and when to access services,” she said. 

For Valdez, one aspect of her work that she is most passionate about is the care and compassion with which HMHI approaches each patient in their care. Our organization treats a wide range of individuals, some with very complex disorders, and our clinicians and care teams offer so much compassion and understanding,” she said. “We offer a number of services across the continuum of care for children, adolescents, and adults of all ages. I quickly learned that our organization was unique in our approach, we treat and assess every person who comes through our door and determine what interventions best fit their experience. 

Danielle Valdez, Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Valdez describes the two things she values most about the institute. “First, patient care and safety is always the number one priority,” she said. “We know that if someone comes to our hospital seeking support, they are in crisis, and likely experiencing one of the scariest moments of their life. We do not take it lightly and we do our best to communicate to them that they are safe, they are not alone, and we will walk with them on this journey to recovery.”  

The second thing Valdez values most about the institution relates to how they have supported growth in her personal career journey. I initially started working at HMHI after my under-grad, where I studied human development, social work, and psychology,” she said. I wanted to understand more about the mental health population and to experience, firsthand, how to support those struggling with their mental health and substance use disorders. I always joke that this place raised me, at least in my journey to become a real adult,’ but it’s true—they did.” 

For Valdez, the support she feels as an employee at HMHI has impacted her ability to help others in the community. As an employee I feel valued, and I have always felt supported in my career,” she said. These values add to my passion for helping others and advocating for those who have lost their voice. Whether you’ve personally experienced mental health challenges or you know someone who has struggled, we have all been touched by mental health. The institute has given me ways to process my own experiences, as well as helped me continue to show up for others.    


HMHI in the Community  

Valdez said she is looking forward to attending several upcoming events related to HMHI’s community outreach initiatives where she will share information on HMHI’s services and interact with the people in our community. These events include the  8th Annual Addictions Update Conference in June, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) walk in September which Valdez describes as being “near and dear to my heart.” Additionally, the Huntsman Mental Health Foundation is hosting the first annual National Summit to End Stigma from June 24-26, featuring keynote speaker Apolo Anton Ohno. 

Finally, Valdez is looking forward to the expansion of mental health services and resources through the completion of the Kem and Carolyn Gardner Mental Health Crisis Care Center, which is slated to open in early 2025 The Center will help people who are facing a psychiatric crisis get on the path to mental wellness by unifying critical crisis services and many community resources in one easy-to-access location,” Valdez said. “This facility will integrate community services, training, and research with crisis care. I have supported the outreach and community collaboration portion of this project, alongside many amazing people, and I’m excited that the increased access to care will benefit a broader community. 


A Message for Mental Health Awareness Month 

When asked to share a message with the community for Mental Health Awareness Month, Valdez expressed the following three affirmations: 

  1. When speaking to others on the topic of mental health, I always lead with you are not alone, because I truly believe the thought that no one knows what I am going through is the most isolating thought anyone can have. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and share our stories, share our “why”, we open the door for people to relate to one another. Being understood and feeling like you can relate to someone, can be the factor in saving someone’s life, quite literally.  
  2. You are going to get through this.” No matter what today looks like, no matter what it feels like, it will change, and it will get better. It won’t always be linear, it might not be easy, but it will get better. From dark times we can fully appreciate the brightness. We learn to see beauty in the peaks and valleys, and one thing is always true—this too shall pass. It’s okay to ask for help. 
  3. Finally, no matter what your brain tells you, you are not a burden, and no one would be better off without you. I am living proof that when someone feels this way, life is not better when you are gone, and if you need someone to talk to when you are in that state of mind, please know that someone at HMHI is always there to listen. There are resources available for you and your loved ones. Don’t give up, we are rooting for you. 


HMHI is one of the hundreds of service providers in the 211 Utah database to whom our client care team refers people who call seeking help.  


If you or someone you love is in crisis, please call or text 988. For more information about crisis services, please visit: Community Crisis Intervention & Support Services.

You can also find more information about mental health resources by visiting here:  Begin Your Journey to Better Mental Health or Find Help for Your Mental Health. 


Written by Jenna Fischer, Content Strategist