May is National Mental Health Month. During the month of May, counties and cities throughout Pawnee Mental Health’s service area will issue proclamations calling upon citizens, government agencies, public and private institutions, businesses and schools to recommit their communities to increasing awareness and understanding of mental health, the steps our citizens can take to protect their mental health and the need for appropriate and accessible services for all people with mental health conditions.
In January, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) selected Pawnee Mental Health Services and Riley County to participate in a national project, CAPE2 (Community Assessment and Education to Promote Behavioral Health Planning and Evaluation.) CAPE 2 explores community behavioral health early warning systems. Riley County is one of nine communities nationwide selected to participate in this project.
A panel of 30 knowledgeable individuals in Riley County was selected to offer their perspectives on local community mental health trends through bi-weekly surveys which began in February and will continue through January, 2016.
The Riley County Mental Health Task Force will participate with the local leadership team consisting of John Leatherman, PhD, professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University and the lead investigator for the project in Kansas, Elaine Johannes, PhD, School of Family Studies and Human Services, Kansas State University, Karen Smothers, LSCSW, Pawnee Mental Health Services and myself in reviewing the perspectives of the panel on a quarterly basis and helping identify community responses.
Stress, alcohol abuse, anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and tobacco or nicotine use were identified as the top five behavioral health issues in Riley County during the first month of the project. These five issues were perceived to have a “moderate presence, affecting many people.”
The lack of accessible and affordable mental health services was one of the seven primary findings of the community needs assessment for Riley County which was recently coordinated by the Riley County Seniors’ Service Center and conducted by the Wichita State University Center for Community Support and Research. Inpatient mental health services, access to mental health services and high quality mental health providers were identified as the top three needs specifically related to mental health.
With the reductions in state grant funding to the community mental health system which took place in the years immediately preceding the state tax policy changes of 2012 and 2013, and the recent reductions in the availability of state psychiatric hospital beds, it is becoming increasingly clear that local needs demand local solutions.
“Local governments and service agencies depend on government data to know what is going on in their communities, but that data is often two or three years old,” according to Dr. Leatherman. “The CAPE2 project provides an attempt to figure out what is happening in real time by sharing information and getting ahead of emerging problems.”
Let’s take this opportunity to get ahead of the emerging behavioral health problems in our community and recommit ourselves to increasing awareness and understanding of mental health, the steps we can take to protect our mental health and the need for appropriate and accessible services for all people with mental health conditions.
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Robbin Waldner Cole, Executive Director