Guest Column: Public Health aims to address mental health

Published 8:22 pm Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Guest Column by Sue Yost

Sue Yost


Freeborn County Public Health is required to complete a community health assessment every five years. One of the ways we collect information is by sending out a survey in collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. The survey is sent out by a survey company to randomly chosen community members 18 and older.  The survey asks questions about a person’s health and wellness activities and includes questions about mental health. The results of the surveys are analyzed by the Center for Health Statistics at the Minnesota Department of Health. When the results come in, we work with community partners to determine the highest needs in the community. We completed a survey in 2013 and 2016, and currently we have a new survey that has been sent out to random community members.  From the information we collected in 2013 and 2016, mental health rose to the top as a concern in the community of Freeborn County. 

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The results of the 2013 survey show that 18 percent of people reported concerns with depression, and in 2016 the results increased to 22 percent. In 2013, 11 percent of those who completed the survey reported experiencing anxiety or panic attacks as compared to 17 percent in 2016. The incidence of these mental health concerns seem to be increasing. The problem with depression and anxiety, is that you can’t see it. You can see that a person is not physically feeling well, they have a broken arm or they are using a walker because they just had a hip replacement, but you can’t see depression and anxiety. There is no sign on them that identifies that a person is depressed or anxious. And usually they don’t tell you. There is a stigma with mental health due to our society’s perceptions. We need to learn more about mental health concerns so that we have a better understanding of what it is like and to help those who need it. 

Freeborn County Public Health has been working with other community partners to work on this issue. Public Health is a partner in the National Alliance on Mental Illness Freeborn County committee.  We have trained many of our staff in mental health first aid offered through NAMI. We have educated our staff on the available resources that are offered for various types of mental health services, including crisis management. We provide support and education to many families who are pregnant and new parents. We do depression screenings and make referrals for followup with their medical providers. We assess many individuals in the community who are disabled or elderly to assist them to remain in their homes as long as possible.  Part of the assessment reviews if the individual has any mental health concerns and encourages the person to follow up also with their medical provider. 

One way to improve mental wellness is by increasing your activity and eating well. The Statewide Health Improvement Partnership program offered through Public Health works on improving mental wellness through educating the community members to eat well and be active by increasing the opportunities to walk and ride bikes. SHIP works with many community partners, such as the farmers market and all of the area schools. The farmers market now offers the Power of Produce program to engage children to purchase and eat new healthy food items. We have worked with schools to increase activity during indoor recess time. SHIP has worked with many of the concession stands for events in the community, and they are now offering healthy options along with all of the previous items they have offered. 

Sue Yost is the Freeborn County Public Health director.