May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Published 9:52 am Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Guest Column by Ilene Grosam

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and this week is devoted to children’s mental health issues. The theme for National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 is “Healthy Families, Resilient Children: Mental Health is a Family Affair.” As a community, now is the time to consider how we provide for the mental health of children and all residents of Freeborn County.

Reducing the stigma of a mental health diagnosis is an important first step in helping families feel comfortable enough to ask for help and seek assistance when needed. Any one of us has the ability to speak up, educate and advocate for raising awareness and ending the isolation of families and individuals struggling with mental health issues. Few families are not touched in some way by an individual needing help and support. One in five Americans is estimated to have a diagnosable mental disorder such as depression, anxiety or substance use. In any given year, this figure includes 13.7 million children. Typically, only one third of these children get formal help or care. Given the prevalence of mental health needs — especially among our young people — prevention, early detection and intervention efforts benefit everyone in our communities through better outcomes in adulthood.

Ilene Grosam

Ilene Grosam

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What does it mean to build resiliency? Being connected to family, friends and community is a good place to start. These connections provide social support and strengthen a child’s ability to bounce back and work through life’s hurts and disappointments. One caring adult may make a lasting impact in the life of a child. Children may also need help to see that setbacks and mistakes, while difficult to deal with at the time, need not define their future. When families are strong, all members of the family benefit. For families helping a child cope with mental health issues, policies and practices need to allow the family to participate in the care and treatment of their children. Communities benefit from families that receive needed support and services.

We are vigilant about ensuring that everyone knows basic first aid techniques, understands the importance of smoke detectors and can recite the techniques of “stop, drop and roll,” but we fail to educate ourselves about the signs and symptoms of mental illness. For children, these sometimes look different than in adults. Some mental health challenges are more likely to occur in childhood. While you may not have the training and education to diagnose an illness, you likely are capable of noticing if a child is having a difficult time and struggling to negotiate growing up and all that goes along with it. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between what is a typical growing-up phase or if it could be something more serious. In general, if a young person is struggling in school, avoiding social activities or no longer enjoying the things they used to like, a closer look may be needed. Being available to listen is a good first step. It really does need to be OK to talk about mental health.

There are resources available to educate yourself on how to be supportive of a family member or individual who is presently struggling with a mental health concern. The National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families. NAMI Minnesota offers education, support and advocacy. Over the past year, several trainings have been offered in Albert Lea and surrounding areas. NAMI is part of the Connection Support Group for adults with mental illness, which meets weekly in Albert Lea. For more information call 507-377-5483. Another resource is available from the Freeborn County Family Service Collaborative. A directory of area mental health providers can be found on their web site at under the “Resources” tab. Freeborn County residents are able to access 24-hour crisis services as part of the South Central Community-Based Initiative. The South Central Mobile Crisis Team is able to offer problem solving and coping strategies, family education and crisis prevention planning. Services can be accessed at 877-399-3040.

If someone shares with you they have a mental illness, listen with openness, empathy and caring. It’s OK to ask questions and show concern. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who is hurting. Just being there can make a big difference.


Ilene Grosam is a social worker/family-based therapist for Freeborn County Department of Human Services.