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Group meets for mental health discussion

PRINCETON — Area residents are meeting to “Continue the Conversation” on mental health.

About 20 people attended the recent meeting hosted by the Bureau/Putnam County Health Department at the Princeton Public Library. The meeting was the second in the Continue the Conversation outreach on mental health, with a third meeting to be planned for May.

Among those groups and entities represented at the meeting were Perry Memorial Hospital, Freedom House, North Central Behavioral Health Systems, Gateway Services, Princeton Elementary School District, Bureau County Coroner, Bureau County Board, Living Works Suicide Prevention, Bureau County Red Cross, representatives of the medical field and community members.

In giving an introduction to the meeting, health department administrator Diana Rawlings said the health department, with assistance from community members and stakeholders, had compiled the recent IPLAN program which identified and prioritized health needs in the two-county area, especially as they relate to youth. One of those four health issues was mental health, she said.

Studies show youth with better mental health generally have better physical health, demonstrate better social skills, and have fewer behavior issues, Rawlings said. Risk factors to good mental health are isolation and stress, she said.

The goal for the Continue the Conversation meetings is for different groups and individuals to talk about what’s available locally now in mental health resources, what can be done to promote what is available, and where there are gaps in mental health services and resources, Rawlings said.

As developed through the IPLAN study, intervention steps would be to develop a mental health committee, which is being done through the Continue the Conversation meetings, as well as increase things like mental health education, mentoring opportunities, build up existing programs and develop new programs, Rawlings said.

Moderator Terry Madsen said he has helped a number of hospitals in assessment programs and almost every hospital listed the need for better mental health services and resources. Hospitals said they were seeing patients in their emergency rooms which should have been seen elsewhere and there was also a lack of referral resources, he said.

As part of the discussion, audience members talked about needed funding from the state as well as counties to provide mental health services, the need for Medicaid expansion and more education so people can take advantage of available mental health services.

Another audience member said her physician husband sees the need to provide better resources for the mild-to-moderate depressed and he would like start group counseling to help people who can’t get into in-service counseling right away. An ultimate goal would be to develop a community wellness center, which would offer all kinds of services including a small fitness center, mentoring program, counseling, life skill classes and childcare. By offering a variety of services, the general public wouldn’t know if a person had come for mental health help or something else, which would help with the stigma of seeking mental health help, she said.

In addition to the stigma associated with mental health, other barriers to getting mental health services include geographic access, cost, education and understanding of available services, Don Miskowiec, president/CEO of North Central Behavioral Health Systems, said.

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