By Ann Wondergem
We all like to share our stories. Stories about our children, our grandchildren, our job, our retirement, our trips and our lives. We share our trials and tribulations about our health, whether it be our aches and pains, our high blood pressure, struggles with weight, our recent surgery or treatment for cancer. When we talk about our health we describe it as, “I have high blood pressure. I have cancer. I have diabetes.”
Seldom do we share our stories about our mental health or mental wellness issues. We do not talk about our depression, our anxiety and panic attacks, how we are managing our schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. We do not talk about our mental health treatment. In fact, often when people talk about mental health or mental disorders it is not a description. Instead we will state, “He is a schizophrenic. She is bipolar. He is mentally ill.” Why do we not say, “He has schizophrenia. She has a bipolar disorder. He has a mental illness.”
On March 21, 2014, over 300 people participated in a Community Conversation about Mental Health and Alcohol & Drug Abuse. Attendees shared stories, expressed their appreciation for services and programs and identified that more work needed to be done to address three major areas: Access, Education and Coordination.
Of the 300 attendees, approximately 50 plus people accepted the challenge to help develop action plans to begin to address the three major areas and identified issues. These 50 plus are serving on Community Action Teams. Their work has just begun, with each Community Action Team meeting monthly, to share information and develop plans to address some of the issues.
Some of the areas, the Access Community Action Team is looking at include prevention, eligibility, and availability issues that impact on access including gaining entry, accessing care locally and finding a provider. This team is in the process of developing some resources to provide tips on how to find a mental health provider, what type of provider do you need, what to expect and factors you should consider.
The Education Community Action Team, working closely with Mental Health America in Sheboygan County, educators, mental health providers, health and human services and other organizations, is focusing on three areas: Community Education, Consumer and Family Education and Provider Education. This team is in the process of planning monthly educational presentations on a relevant mental health topic, working with a professor at the University of Wisconsin – Sheboygan on producing a play and planning a community resource fair for early 2015.
Realizing that life should not be a continuous state of confusion, the Coordination Community Action Team is in the process of developing a resource map that will help provide better insight into the location and distribution of resources and researching models used in other communities and states.
Members of the Community Action Teams are looking forward to the October 2nd Call to Action, a half day meeting on how we can collaboratively work to improve community health including mental health. If you are interested in reviewing the March 21, 2014, Community Conversation reports or the agendas and minutes from the Community Action Team meetings, please visit the Mental Health America in Sheboygan County website at www.mhasheboygan.org
And remember, it is okay to talk about mental health, mental wellness and mental illness. My guess is that each and every one us knows someone who has experienced a mental illness as one in four adults experiences a mental illness in any given year and 20% of youth ages 13- 18 years experiences a severe mental disorder in a given year. Achieving mental wellness must be a priority.