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Mental health should be a state, local priority

Mental health is a stigmatized topic. Some don’t even believe mental illness exists. However, mental health issues have a grave impact on our community, state and nation and we need to address them and support those who are struggling.

One in five adults in American experience a mental illness and 10 million adults in American live with a serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental health disorders and addiction disorders are often coexistent. Though mental illness does not discriminate, there are cultural factors like sexual orientation, social class and race that impact mental health issues and views on seeking help.

Even so, mental health issues are treated differently than physical health issues. When someone has a physical health issue, seeking help is rarely questioned, but the same is not true for those dealing with mental health concerns. Mental illnesses are often misunderstood and they often don’t get talked about – as if avoiding them altogether will make them go away.

No doubt, mental health issues are tough. When you’re not in those shoes, they are hard to grasp. They can be seen as a weakness rather than what they are, a health issue. We have to change that mindset.

Both conversations and resources are needed to help address mental health issues. By having more conversations in our schools, workplaces and homes, we acknowledge that mental health issues are tough and no one is alone. Most importantly we acknowledge that mental health issues are worthy of discussion.

Stigmatizing conversations about mental health issues furthers the notion that there should be shame associated with mental illness. It also can make those dealing with one feel as though they are alone and that no one could understand what they’re going through. Sometimes mental illness can cause secondary feelings, such as feeling guilty for suffering from mental health issues, which only furthers the burden the individual may be carrying. We need to open the conversation.

We also must address resources necessary to provide effective mental health care. Calls for service related to mental illness often take significant time from law enforcement and are indicative of lack of help for those living with mental illness. Too often someone dealing with a mental health crisis ends up in jail or an emergency room rather than a mental health facility. More state and local resources are needed to prevent this.

In Iowa’s 2018 legislative session, there was bipartisan support for two mental health bills. One expanded mental health services, including the addition of six regional access centers meant for people having mental health crises, but don’t need hospitalization. The other bill requires educators to receive training about suicide and calls on schools to incorporate suicide prevention and intervention after the fact into instruction.

Luckily in our community, our Senate and House representatives have been advocates for mental health legislation and have discussed more plans for the upcoming session.

Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said he plans to introduce legislation to allow children 14 years and older who have thoughts of danger to self or others to be able to seek mental health care services without parental permission. Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, is working to create a more uniform system for children‚ mental health and improving access to treatment. Smith is a social worker with the Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa and Edler is a member of the Children‚ System State Board where these issues are being discussed.

We appreciate the efforts of our representatives and hope to see increases in access to mental health care at the local and state levels. When we more openly discuss mental illness, we raise awareness that may persuade someone to seek help before a crisis occurs. Most importantly, we need local and state resources to be well funded so that people can receive quality care when they do seek help.