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August 25, 2014

Assessing the County’s Health: Another Community Conversation

by Jon Doll

Robin Williams’ untimely and tragic suicide is drawing long overdue attention to the ever growing crisis of mental health in communities across the country. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. In Wisconsin, it is second.

Now, more than ever, it is important for our community to be concerned and become better-informed of the seriousness of mental health (depression, anxiety) and to treat it with the same urgency as we treat other serious diseases – heart failure, diabetes, and cancer for example.

As part of the comprehensive Sheboygan County Health Needs Assessment, a group of community organizations* conducted a number of key informant interviews in an effort to identify public health priorities in the county. The priorities were identified in 2014 by these key informants - a range of providers, policy-makers, and other local experts and community members.

These interviews consistently ranked mental health number one among the top five health issues facing Sheboygan County. The next four were Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Access (to health care), Oral Health, and Physical Activity and Tobacco Use (tie).

Last March, more than 300 community members came together for the Community Conversation about Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Abuse. From that day, three major areas of focus were identified: Access to, Coordination of, and Education in Mental Health. Since then, three committees have formed and are working to develop solutions to these major issues.

On October 2nd, the Sheboygan County Community Health Survey Report will be the main topic of discussion at another large community conversation to be held at Lakeshore Technical College. For those who attended the last community conversation, this event promises to be another invigorating, impactful discussion of all the key health issues currently facing Sheboygan County.

Among topics to be discussed during professionally facilitated conversations throughout the morning (7:30-noon), will be:

  • Existing strategies to address health key issues
  • Barriers/challenges to addressing each issue (Examples: access to, coordination of, education about health services)
  • Additional strategies needed to address needed changes
  • Key groups in the community that hospitals should partner with to improve community health

The October 2nd community conversation will give everyone and anyone in the community a chance to learn about and actually weigh in on the key health issues facing the community. This broad-based conversation around the community health assessment provides us all with another opportunity to get involved with health issues in Sheboygan County. 

Last Saturday, more than 450 people participated in Mental Health America of Sheboygan County’s 9th annual ‘There is Hope’ event on the waterfront, a walk for suicide awareness and prevention. This represents a 50% increase in participation from a year ago and indicates that people in the community are paying more attention to health in general and mental health in particular.

Change is driven by enhanced awareness which, hopefully, translates into increased participation. If this is true, events such as March’s Mental Health Summit and last Saturday’s ‘Hope Walk’ bode well for the community’s ability to find solutions for its major health concerns.

With this in mind, mark your calendar for October 2nd. We had more than 300 in attendance at the last community conversation and would love to have just as many at this event.

* Aurora Health Care Systems, St. Nicholas Hospital, Lakeshore Community Health Center, Wisconsin Division of Health, UW Extension-Sheboygan, Healthy Sheboygan County, Division of Public Health, and United Way of Sheboygan County

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