Guest Column: Mental illness is more common than you think

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Guest Column by Mark Kossman

Millions of people live their lives with mental health challenges every year.  During the month of May, mental health awareness is celebrated to bring attention to mental health issues and provide support to those who are living their lives with mental health challenges. May as Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 1949 on a national level to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and to help us remember that mental health is vital to our overall health. It provides an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues in our local community. It also gives us the opportunity to further reduce the stigma around mental health concerns. Although the stigma associated with mental health challenges has decreased considerably in recent years, there still may be a hesitancy surrounding mental health concerns and receiving treatment.    

Mark Kossman

Mental illness is more common than most people think.  Individuals struggling with mental health concerns are the people sitting next to us in church, the people we see at the grocery store, our neighbors and our friends. One in four people are living with a mental health challenge, and approximately 450 million people worldwide are impacted by mental health concerns. Since mental health concerns can impact people of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels, including teachers, doctors, managers, retail sales employees, cashiers and farmers. We probably all have someone in our lives who is dealing with a mental health challenge. Mental illness impacts all of us.     

To this day, there seems to be a misunderstanding of mental illness and its effects on people. For example, depression is more than feeling “blue” or feeling sad for a few hours throughout the day.  Symptoms of clinical depression frequently include a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, persistent feelings of sadness, having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, concertation problems and feeling fatigued or experiencing energy loss nearly every day. These symptoms need to be present nearly every day for a two-week period of time. People dealing with depression may also withdraw from family and friends and have trouble going to work or school. Anxiety is also very common. Symptoms of anxiety often include restlessness, irrational fear, excessive worry, agitation and panic attacks. The three most common mental illnesses are anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.   

As a professional working in the mental health field, one of the frustrations we face in helping those living with mental health challenges is the lack of mental health resources across the region. As Sue Abderholden, the executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota has frequently stated, “The mental health system is not broken, it was never built.” In some cases, a person can be transferred to a hospital several hundred miles from home when they are hospitalized for mental health reasons, which takes them away from their friends, family and support system. Affordable housing for those struggling with mental illness is a barrier, as well. There are also long wait times for outpatient mental health services, including individual psychotherapy and psychiatry appointments. The need for mental health services in our community has probably never been greater.  We are extremely fortunate to have Freeborn County Mental Health Center in the community, which offers responsive, caring and compassionate outpatient mental health services.   

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, who 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. Our 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 our four adult mental health case managers who work specifically with those living with a serious and persistent mental illness and partner with people to coordinate additional mental health services. Freeborn County also has two mental health case aides who operate our local clubhouse. The Next Step Clubhouse offers a safe environment that provides companionship, acceptance and support for consumers of the mental health services and has a lot of programming and special activities. The mental health center also provides consultation on mental health topics to other agencies in the community and educational services to the community.

During the pandemic, Freeborn County Mental Health Center continues to provide psychiatric, therapy and substance use evaluation services via telephone and video conferencing. This ensures that services can continue without requiring residents to leave their homes. We are also offering in-person appointments.  We are able to schedule appointments within a few days of calling our mental health center. We are accepting new clients and appointments can be made by calling 507-377-5440. 

Mark Kossman, Psy.D, LP, is the program manager of the Freeborn County Mental Health Center.