County sees increased need for mental health services

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

It’s a team effort when it comes to aiding those struggling with mental health.

That’s the thought process behind efforts of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership’s Mental Health Committee. The wraparound effort is essential, committee leaders say, because the need for mental health services in the county is increasing.

Jodi Richardson, a co-chair of the committee and the director of behavioral health and social work services at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, said counseling services at Memorial have seen an uptick in new referrals since 2012. According to data Richardson shared, in 2012, inpatient and emergency mental health care services saw 650 new patients. By 2019, that number increased to 1,540 in one year. For outpatient services, 2012 saw 832 new referrals, and 2019 saw 1,505. Richardson said other mental health care providers in the county — such as LifeSpring Health Systems — report similar increases.

While those numbers can be alarming, Richardson, her fellow committee co-chair Donna Oeding, and Jo Ann Spaulding, administrative director of the Dubois County Health Department and chair of Dubois County’s Public Health Partnership said the increase is actually encouraging. It means more people are seeking help when they need it.

“I think we’ve finally hit the time when mental health is treated as a health condition that should be treated,” Richardson said.

Mental health is not a new health concern for Dubois County. Oeding, who is a former administrative director of the Dubois County Health Department, said that mental health showed up as a major need after a 2008 health needs assessment the health department conducted, and Spaulding said it continues to be a top concern on subsequent assessments. The reason isn’t clear, but health providers try to be proactive in their responses to the data.

In 2008, concerned community groups formed a mental health committee. A few years later, a committee dedicated to suicide prevention formed as well. A few years ago, the two groups combined into the mental health committee currently under the Dubois County Public Health Partnership. In its current form, the mental health committee includes representatives from more than 20 community organizations representing health care, advocacy, education and the workforce.

“It’s a broad, broad topic,” Oeding said.

The three noted that in recent years, schools have become more proactive in terms of mental health through school social workers, and employers have placed more emphasis on employee mental health, even including mental health screenings in annual health screenings.

“They’re not just looking at weight, height and [body mass index] anymore,” Spaulding said. “They’re also looking at stress and anxiety.”

Doctors offices, too, have started including questions about mental health on intake forms and asking about it during appointments.

Dubois County is not unique in its increase in need for mental health services. Richardson said the same trend is evident across the state and across the nation, and data backs up the claim. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the leading causes of death in adults in the U.S., and suicide was in the top 10. The data comes from 2018 — the most recent available — and shows a .2% increase in deaths by suicide over 2017. Dubois County also saw an uptick in deaths by suicide in 2018, according to data from the Dubois County Health Department.

Janet Schnell, a local suicidologist and president of Survivors of Suicide Dubois County, a support group for those who have lost someone to suicide, said nationally and locally, middle age men seem to be among the most at-risk groups. Veterans are the most at-risk.

Across the Midwest, farmers are at a high risk. Earlier this week, USA Today published an in-depth look at farm-related deaths by suicide across the region that cited near-record debt, rising rates of bankruptcy, selling off farms and an uncertain future brought on by climate and economic factors as sources of stress for farmers that for some becomes too much.

Farmers are struggling at the local level, too, Dubois County Purdue Extension Educator Kenny Eck said. Farmers often talk about their struggles with extension staff, which led the extension to begin looking at mental health resources geared toward the farm community in December. Recently, the extension ramped up efforts following the death of three farmers by suicide and six more attempts since January, Eck said.

“Farming can be stressful if you don’t quite have things line up, and it’s been a very stressful last few years,” Eck said. “We’re trying to work with them to have tools to help deal with that.”

The extension will offer Weathering the Storm in Agriculture on March 16. The event will teach farmers and their families research-backed stress management and suicide prevention techniques. The program will be offered twice: at 5 p.m. at the Dubois Community Park and at 7 p.m. at the Dubois County Fairgrounds Clover Pavilion. To attend, RSVP to 812‐482‐1782 or email duboisces@purdue.edu.

Beyond farm-related suicide deaths, Schnell said researchers have several explanations for the rising suicide rate. Recently, researchers have linked socio-economic status to higher rates of death by suicide.
“People with lower incomes can’t get the extra services like mental health because they can’t afford it,” Schnell said.

Other theories Schnell cited include inadequate funding for social welfare programs dealing with suicide, lack of preventative training and general stigmas around mental health struggles, especially the idea that depression is a choice.

Richardson, Oeding and Spaulding agreed that in light of the increase in demand for mental health services, an increase in suicide attempts and deaths by suicide — while tragic — is not a surprise.

“When you have more people suffering from a disease, you sometimes have more negative outcomes,” Richardson said.

Along with an increased demand for mental health services across the nation, state and county, Richardson said, has come a shortage of mental health care providers.

“That’s why the prevention piece is key,” she said.

Prevention is the main focus of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership’s Mental Health Committee, with their main effort being Mental Health First Aid training for regular citizens. The eight-hour training is research-based and teaches participants to recognize the signs of mental health struggles in those around them, how to have conversations about mental health and where to refer people for help. So far, over 300 people have been trained, and additional trainings are in the works. More information can be found at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org.

Oeding, Richardson and Spaulding emphasized the need to apply “if you see something, say something” to mental health. If you see someone struggling, reach out, and educate yourself about resources you can offer.

“We have all these great resources,” Spaulding said. “But if the general public doesn’t know about them, all our efforts are for naught.”

Memorial Hospital also operates a 24-hour helpline at 812-827-6222. LifeSpring’s 24-hour helpline is 812-482-4020.

There are also national helplines, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-8255 — and the Crisis Text Line. To access the text line, text HOME to 741741.




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