Guest column: Events planned for Mental Health Awareness

Published 8:45 pm Friday, May 5, 2023

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Guest column by Mark Kossman

Mark Kossman

While it is important to take care of your mental health and celebrate it on a daily basis, the month of May has been designated as national Mental Health Awareness Month every year since 1949. During the month of May, we provide support for those people who are living their lives with mental health concerns, fight the stigma associated with mental health challenges, educate the public on how prevalent mental health concerns are and advocate for policies which provide additional mental health services and resources within our community. Most importantly, we celebrate the fact that individuals who live their lives with mental health challenges can successfully cope with and overcome their symptoms and make valuable contributions to the community.

Although the stigma surrounding mental health has lessened a great deal in recent years, there is some fear and reluctance among many to openly discuss their mental health with family and friends. Don’t shy away from talking about the things that are troubling you since mental health concerns are extremely common in our community.

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Everyone deals with the frustrations of everyday life, periods of sadness, feelings of inadequacy and guilt and the fatigue of busy home and work schedules.

When a person starts to have trouble fulfilling major life roles such as going to work or school, socializing with others, or if you notice a change in behavior or a loss of enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities, over the period of a few weeks, which is accompanied by symptoms including persistent feelings of sadness, excessive worry, trouble sleeping, appetite changes or thoughts of suicide, it may indicate that the person is dealing with a mental health concern.

Mental illness is a medical condition which can affect a person’s mood, thoughts and behavior. Some examples of mental illness include major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and personality disorders. With everything that is going on in society right now, it comes as no surprise that the rates of mental illness in children, adolescents and adults have been increasing in recent years. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 22.8% of adults in the United States and 16.5 million children aged 6 to 17 experienced a mental health concern in 2021. This represents 65.5 million people. As the NAMI mental health awareness campaign accurately states, millions of people in the United States are affected by mental illness and “You are not alone.” Anxiety, depression and substance use issues are the three most common mental health concerns. It is important to state that experiencing a mental health concern is no different than seeking healthcare for diabetes, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol or any other medical concern.

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 many 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 mental center is adding a therapist to our team of providers in the very near future to increase the availability of therapy services in our community and reduce the wait time for initial appointments. 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. 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. 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 located at 203 W. Clark Street 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 to Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. by calling 507-377-5440.

There are several community events planned for Mental Health Awareness Month. On May 18 at Morin Park, there is a free community event sponsored by Next Step Clubhouse and Freeborn County Mental Health Center where there will be information tables, handouts, free mental health items including pens and bracelets and mental health staff from the community to talk with. Hot dogs, chips and bottled water will be served. The event is being held from 11 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon.

Things you can do to promote mental health awareness during the month of May:

• Subscribe to a mental health newsletter

• Get involved with the local NAMI chapter

• Contact your representative to encourage them to prioritize mental health initiatives

• Make a point to talk with someone you know who is struggling with a mental health concern

• Learn more about your own mental health

Mark Kossman is the Freeborn County Mental Health Center program manager.