Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Havilyn Harrar: ‘Mental health care can affect your entire health’
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Havilyn Harrar’s career goal was to help her much-beloved community – and join Western Sierra Medical Clinic.
It was a dream that required many months of hard work, endless hours of driving each way to San Francisco, and the never-ending support of her family.
“I went to school to work at Western Sierra,” says Harrar, who joined the fast-growing clinic in April 2022. “It’s the hub where everybody comes for their care.”
That “hub” has expanded to include a Behavioral Health Team with Harrar and a couple of other psychiatric nurse practitioners.
The team of well-trained professionals is in great demand dealing with a mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID. The pandemic has led to more anxiety, isolation, stress and much uncertainty for patients in recent years.
Mental health “affects everything,” Harrar says. “The problem is exponentially huge. So many people have been depressed for years and have never seeked treatment. It’s so disabling.”
It’s a communitywide issue that Harrar knows very well.
She moved from the Bay Area to Nevada County in 2005, after a longtime friend moved to the region.
“We moved for our children and to have a sense of community,” says Harrar, a mother of two now-adult children.
She has been a big part of the education and health care community, helping several hundred students – and their families – during her 14-year career as a school nurse for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.
“I loved the kids, the teachers and the staff,” says Harrar, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Nursing from San Francisco State University and later a Master of Science in Nursing from California State University, Sacramento. “School nursing is very satisfying. You get to work with students and families and make a difference.”
But she was deeply aware of the huge need for mental health professionals in Nevada County.
“I knew the community need was here,” she says. “I applied to school, and said if got in, I would go.”
She was accepted and earned a post-Masters Certificate to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner from the University of California, San Francisco in June 2020, just a few months after the COVID pandemic started.
“It was definitely a community investment,” Harrar says of her family’s support. “I have a wonderful husband who kept everything going.”
Now, Harrar can combine her two decades of health care experience with her education in mental health at Western Sierra.
The nonprofit health provider can “create that safe zone, that medical home where you have all of your needs in one place,” she says. “I can walk down the hallway and talk to (a patient’s primary-care provider).”
It’s a benefit for patients and providers because behavioral health is a critical component of overall health. For example, a patient battling a chronic condition, such as heart disease or Lupus, may also be dealing with depression.
“Few people understand that integration,” she says. “Mental health care can affect your entire health.”
But addressing behavioral health issues can open the door to new opportunities – and possibilities.
“I want people to feel like they have a life they’re thriving in,” Harrar says.
Away from work, Harrar enjoys camping, hiking and kayaking – easy to find recreation in Nevada County. “It’s been a great place to raise a family,” she says.