Polk County residents, community members, and service providers can all agree that mental health is the county’s number one health focus area. Addressing this need is a challenge the Mental Health Task Force is working to face head-on.
Unfortunately, there is significant stigma and misunderstanding around many mental health issues. People who face mental health challenges may not “look” sick. They may be reliable employees, committed parents, or helpful neighbors. Some days might be good, while others might be bad. One of the goals the Task Force has is working to make sure that anyone with questions about their mental health can talk with someone qualified to help.
There are three main areas of community health concern that the Mental Health Task Force is working to address in Polk County: suicide, depression, and mental health as a whole.
The numbers regarding instances of suicide in Polk County are hard to ignore. Polk County’s adult suicide rate is close to double that of state averages, and approximately 15% of Polk County youth have reported seriously considering suicide in the past year (again, higher than reported state youth averages.) On a recent community health survey, 16% said they’d been told they have depression or a mental health disorder, 18% said they felt sad or depressed on three or more days in the past two weeks, and 4% said that they considered suicide in the past year. Suicide prevention, education, and resources are a very important part of the Task Force’s work.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Roughly 7,040 Polk County citizens have been told they have depression or a mental health disorder. Those struggling with depression may often have additional difficulties with things like weight, getting less than recommended levels of exercise, excessive drinking, and thoughts of self harm, all of which can affect the communities they live in. Depression intervention is a significant county need and Task Force focus.
Mental Health as a Whole
How residents perceive their community says just as much as figures from statistical data. When asked “What’s healthy/unhealthy about Polk County?” those surveyed said that social and economic factors such as income, employment, and work opportunity affected their overall health. Many residents have difficulty finding local jobs, working toward higher education, and seeking out healthy lifestyles. This means the Task Force not only strives to address the county’s mental health needs, but their root causes as well.
What We Do to Help Address Mental Health in Polk County
The Mental Health Task Force is the sole organization in Polk County that exclusively promotes mental health awareness and access to care in the community. As such, the Task Force has a clearly defined set of goals to steer their work in building a healthier population:
- Reduce stigma associated with mental health issues
- Improve access to mental health care
- Increase awareness of mental health issues via educational programming
- Identify and address mental health issues that face our community
Reduce Stigma: Often, the best way to reduce stigma on an issue is to create more knowledge of and around the problem. As such, the Mental Health Task Force has developed a website, mentalhealthpolk.org, and has made a brochure listing all area mental health service providers commonly available.
Improve Access to Care: Because accessing mental health care and resources is difficult for many, programming such as YScreen and Healthy Beginnings offer school and home-based care options. Advantages to these sorts of programs include cost effectiveness, fewer transportation issues, and improvement to the assessment and diagnosis process. Moreover, they offer schools further resources to address potential mental health issues in students.
Increase Awareness: By investing in “upstream” interventions, the Mental Health Task Force hopes to educate Polk County’s youth on healthy lifestyles, as well as address any early childhood causes for concern. Additionally, the Task Force has offered three training initiatives: QPR – Question, Persuade, Refer (how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help); Lifelines, a comprehensive suicide awareness and responsiveness program for teens; and Youth Suicide Prevention, evidence-based suicide prevention programming geared towards educating the community about suicide, including suicidal risk factors, suicide warning signs, and ways to increase an individual’s protective factors.
Identify and Address Issues: Through community surveys, collaboration with local health care providers, and state-wide data collection processes, the Mental Health Task Force can accurately gauge Polk County’s needs concerning mental health. Most recently, a mental health specific Community Health Improvement Plan was created to improve the emotional well-being of Polk county residents. Plans such as these are part of an ongoing effort to address statistical findings with concrete public offerings.