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Guest Column: Raising awareness of mental health needs

Guest Column by Sara Barnes

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a time to increase awareness and acceptance of those living with mental health challenges, while reducing the stigma that so many face. Mental health conditions are extremely common and impact millions of people in the United States.  According to statistics provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 20%, or one in five adults, experienced a mental health concern in 2019, and 16.5% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016. This represents 7.7 million people. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern and impact approximately 40 million adults.  Eighteen percent (42 million) Americans live their lives with anxiety disorders, and 6.9% (16 million) Americans have major depressive disorders.

Sara Barnes

Mental illness is a medical condition which can impact the way a person thinks and feels. It should be emphasized that experiencing a mental health challenge is no different than seeking health care for diabetes, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol or any other medical concern. Mental awareness is necessary, as it continues to reduce the stigma associated with mental health concerns, educates the public and encourages people to seek mental health services. If you are experiencing mental health issues, know that you are not alone, and that help is available.

One of the primary goals of mental health awareness is also to raise awareness of effective treatment approaches for these very common mental health conditions. The first step in the treatment process is receiving an accurate diagnosis from a health care provider. After a diagnosis is made, therapy and medication may be recommended. For many mental health conditions, a combination of therapy and medication is most effective. 

Freeborn County Mental Health Center offers mental health services to all residents of the county including psychiatry, individual and group therapy, chemical dependency evaluations and adult mental health case management.  Freeborn County Mental Health Center has two psychiatric providers, Dr. Annette Smick, who is a licensed psychiatrist, and Brian Vold, an advanced practice registered nurse. Both are able to prescribe psychiatric medication for mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar symptoms, behavioral challenges, attention and concentration difficulties, and addiction, among others. Our psychiatric providers also complete psychiatric evaluations and are available to meet with children, adolescents and adults.

There are also four individual therapists who provide individual psychotherapy at the mental health center. The therapists utilize a positive, person-centered, strengths-based approach to help people reach their goals, overcome challenges and achieve wellness. The therapists work in close collaboration with four adult mental health case managers who work specifically with those living with a serious and persistent mental illness. They partner with other mental health resources to coordinate additional mental health services to the consumer. Freeborn County also has two mental health case aides who operate the local clubhouse. The Next Step Clubhouse offers a safe environment that provides companionship, acceptance and support for Freeborn County residents who live with a mental illness. Programming and special activities allow them to socialize and be a part of the community. The mental health center also provides consultation on mental health topics to other agencies and educational services to the community.  The Freeborn County Mental Health Center is able to schedule appointments within a few days of calling and is accepting new clients. Freeborn County Mental Health Center is at 203 W. Clark St. and is on the second floor of the Department of Human Services building. We accept all insurance plans and offer a sliding fee schedule.  Appointments can be made Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling 507-377-5440.

Are you or someone you know struggling to find support for themselves or their loved ones especially during these difficult times? NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) offers many different trainings and support groups that can be found at NAMI.org. NAMI Minnesota is a nonprofit organization, with an affiliate in Freeborn County. NAMI Freeborn County is dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families. NAMI Freeborn County has a peer support group here in Albert Lea. NAMI Connection is a weekly support group for people living with a mental health condition. Online support groups can also be found online at NAMIMN.org. Find NAMI Freeborn County on Facebook for more information on the local affiliate.

Sara Barnes is the adult mental health case manager for the Freeborn County Department of Human Services.