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Stevens County Times Editorial: Donation important in the need to educate public on mental health issues

Carol Voorhees,at left, a member of the Stevens County Adult Mental Health Local Advisory Council, is shown with Morris Public Library Director Anne Barber. The LAC recently donated books on mental health awareness and education to the library. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times

The Stevens County Adult Mental Health Local Advisory Council made a simple gesture to help raise awareness about mental illness and to help educate the public about mental illness. LAC donated several books on mental health and related issues to the Morris Public Library. The LAC made the donation to mark Mental Illness Awareness Week from Oct. 1-7.

Any of the material would be a good read for a resident of this region because the people with mental health issues live with us. They may fix our car, do our taxes or live next door. The family and friends of someone coping with a mental illness may teach our children or haul our grain.

The Minnesota Hospital Association reports that 20 percent of Minnesotans live with a mental illness. Some of those 20 percent may not be able to work. Others may work part-time, while others are employed full-time in their communities. But all have one thing in common, they have a mental health issue. And if they have family, friends, co-workers or an employer, those folks are all part of the ill person's structure.

Thankfully, society has moved from the days when those with mental illness were shuddered away in large buildings called state institutions and even asylums. News reports, even literature, have told dozens of stories of folks who languished in nearly primitive or ghastly experimental care in such places. But, certainly all institutions were not cold, unfeeling pits of despair.

The trend of several decades has been to move the care of those with mental health issues to community-based care or less institutional care.

The Minnesota Hospital Association said 75 percent of mental health care is delivered in community settings. That can mean a mental health patient has regular visits with a therapist or psychiatrist in the community or region.

Still, there is a need for hospitals. Hospitals can provide outpatient services but also the valuable inpatient care when the illness has become overwhelming for a person.

While awareness about mental illness is growing, access to services is often woefully inadequate. It can be even more of a challenge to receive services if you are in a rural area and are of low income.

In fact, the Minnesota Hospital Association's Board of Directors recently made mental and behavioral health disorders one of its highest priorities. In a report published in December 2015, the MHA cited access to mental health services as well as reducing the stigma associated with mental illness as just two of the challenges facing mental health treatment.

That's why a simple gesture by LAC is important. The LAC is a resource in the county. Its mission is to educate and promote awareness of mental health issues and resources. The more any individual can learn about mental health issues, the awareness increases. Advocacy groups can be strengthened by the increased knowledge and awareness of individuals and that can lead to more services.

The LAC meets at 3 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month in the multipurpose room at Stevens Community Medical Center. Interested individuals are encouraged to attend. For more information, contact Liberty Sleiter at Stevens County Human Services at 320-208-6600.