There is much going on in Jasper County in the areas of substance abuse and mental health, due to grants received to improve services and prevention in both areas.  Currently, coalitions formed through the receipt of both grants are meeting, working together, and planning to make the future brighter and better for our residents who may suffer from substance addiction, mental illness, or both concurrently as is often the case.

At the Pregnancy Center of Central Iowa, we see repeatedly how the lives of our clients are impacted by issues surrounding both areas of concern.  Because I am involved with both coalitions, I am expanding my knowledge of how to better provide help in cases of these illnesses.  The bottom line for our community – the more educated our citizens are in both the areas of substance abuse and mental health, the better for everyone.

Years ago, both substance abuse and mental illness were proverbial “elephants in the room.”  Most refused to acknowledge either, even when a close friend or family member was suffering.  These matters were simply not discussed publicly, as if there came a great shame in doing so.  Thankfully, modern research and medicine have determined that both substance abuse and mental illness are, indeed illnesses, just like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease.  Therefore, seeking treatment involves absolutely no shame.  To the contrary, treatment is the correct path to recovery and wellness.

Operating under the veil of stigma is more harmful in one area than in any other, and that is suicide.  There appeared a recent article in the Des Moines Register about suicide in Iowa that was very alarming.  The article was accompanied by two visuals.

One was a map of Iowa with the counties delineated and shaded by the rate of suicide in each county from 2008 to 2017.  The various shadings represented frequencies of suicide from 0 per 100,000 people  (lightest) all the way to 25 per 100,000 people (darkest).  Sadly, Jasper County was one of the state’s darker counties.  Executive Director of the Iowa Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Peggy Huppert, noted that, “All the reports indicate that this is a health crisis and is well on its way to being an epidemic.”

The second graph illustrated the rise in deaths from suicide in Iowa from 2000 through 2017.  The 200 numbers were around 280.  Although the increase is not steady over the 18 years, the 2017 numbers were close to 480 which is a startling increase.

Until I became involved in both grant coalitions, I felt relatively helpless.  But since I have availed myself of many of the resources that are available, I have valuable information to share so that more of us can properly help when presented with the opportunity.

The above mentioned National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, offers many trainings and pertinent information to any person who desires further education for themselves or a friend or family member.  This includes “Breaking the Silence” which helps end the stigmas surrounding mental health issues and suicide.

I have taken the USA Mental Health First Aid trainings for both adults and youth, which have proven to be very practical and informative and have equipped me with tools to both recognize and deal with potential situations arising from mental health issues.  I highly recommend both trainings.

I have also learned that one should never be afraid to talk with someone who may be experiencing problems.  If there is even a shred of evidence that anyone may be contemplating suicide, talking to them about it is the best path.   Simply ask if they are thinking about harming themselves.  If they give you a positive response, go one step further and ask them if they have a plan.  If they do, help them to get immediate assistance and get them out of the clear and present danger and away from potential weapons.  The fear is not in speaking openly and honestly of suicide.  The true fear is not speaking.

Locally, we are fortunate to have several agencies that treat substance abuse and mental health issues.  Each agency is ready and qualified to help, but no one can help if they are not contacted.  These agencies include Capstone Behavioral Health Care, Optimae, House of Mercy, Integrated Health Services, and another soon to open, Seasons Change Counseling.  Please use these services if you feel they are needed.

And please join those of us who are working toward a community that is open to honest discussion about substance abuse, mental health and suicide until every person who needs it can get appropriate treatment and care.

We are our brother’s keeper.