Guest Column: Be a part of the solution for the community

Published 10:43 pm Friday, December 8, 2017

Live United by Sara Barnes

Do you or someone you love live with a mental health condition?

The National Association on Mental Illness tells us that one out of every five American adults lives with a mental illness and one out of every 25 American adults is living with a serious and persistent mental illness. These are illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder or long-term recurring major depression. 

Sara Barnes

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Many people and families struggle to find support for themselves or their loved ones. NAMI offers many different trainings and support groups that can be found at

Freeborn County has a support group currently running right here in Albert Lea.  NAMI Connection is a weekly support group for people living with a mental health condition. 

My name is Sara Barnes and I work as a mental health case manager in Freeborn County. Mental health awareness has always been a passion of mine, and when I obtained my social work degree and licensure in 2015, I was fortunate enough to already be working part time as a parent mentor in the Healthy Families Program through Freeborn County Public Health.

I was offered a full-time position as a care coordinator with Public Health. Through this position, I was able to reach out to Freeborn County residents who were enrolled in certain health care programs and make sure they were able to obtain appointments for regular checkups with the appropriate providers and help them to set up transportation if needed. 

I became aware of how many people in our community are living with a mental illness and were not able to obtain the help they needed such as a psychiatrist to prescribe medications for their mental illness or therapy to help them cope with the daily struggles of their illness.

I realized very quickly that we needed more support for those living and/or struggling with a mental illness. I started working with a great group of people to address poverty in our community through a group now known as LOLA, or Lift One Lift All. We discussed issues that people seemed to be battling in Freeborn County, and one of those issues was accessibility to mental health providers and supports.

I and another member of the group, Gloria Olson, decided to start looking for supports near our county. We found the closest NAMI Connection support group was running in Owatonna, nearly 45 minutes away. Our solution was to start our own mental health support group here in Albert Lea, so that is just what we did. 

I began emailing whoever I could to figure out what I needed to do to become not only a NAMI volunteer but also a trained facilitator. After many emails and phone calls, I found my answers. A short phone interview put Gloria and myself into a two-day training paid for by NAMI.

We were trained to facilitate the support group. NAMI then approved us to be able to run a Connection Group here in Albert Lea. I reached out to Jason Hoiseth and Sue Ruble, who run the Next Step Clubhouse, which is a drop-in center for those living with a mental illness. They were kind enough to let us use their building to run our support group.

The NAMI Connection mental health support group is still running from 5 to 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday evening.  Anyone living with a mental illness is welcome to come to the group for support, or maybe you are doing well and want to share your story with those who are struggling.

This support group is my baby, and I am so proud of its success in the community and want to continue to watch it grow. If you or someone you know may be interested in becoming a NAMI volunteer or group facilitator, please reach out to me and let me know. I can be reached at Freeborn County DHS, 507-377-5400. The training is free of charge to those interested.

It will take a community to resolve the barriers for people who live with mental illnesses — you can be part of the solution!

Sara Barnes is a licensed social worker and adult mental health case manager for Freeborn County Department of Human Services and a facilitator for the National Association on Mental Illness Connection mental health support group.