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Women’s Fund launches statewide mental health effort

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This week, on the steps of Monument Circle, a host of organizations from both the private and public sectors gathered to launch a local push of a national effort, Campaign to Change Direction. The announcement came on May 31, a day Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett dubbed Change Mental Health Day.

The initiative, which was convened by the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, a special interest fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation, consists of eight cities, 46 college campuses, hospitals, health departments, chambers, foundations and businesses that have partnered under a pledge to advocate for greater mental health awareness across the entire state.

“Depression is twice as common in women as men,” said Jennifer Pope Baker, executive director of Women’s Fund. “By removing barriers to good mental health … we are fulfilling our mission to create more options and opportunities for women and girls, as well as their families.”

Data from Mental Health America showed that Indiana ranked 37th in the country in terms of access to care for those with mental illness. The organization also reports that in Indiana, 20 percent of Hoosier adults live with mental illness. 

For African-Americans, the numbers paint a troubling picture. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 10 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites. The latest data on the matter from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that African-Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of caucasian Americans in the past year and at about one-third the rate of Asian Americans. 

Though each partner in the new program has their own individual plans of action, every party involved has the shared intent of working to help ensure that every central Indiana resident knows within five years how to recognize and respond to the five signs of emotional suffering: personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care and hopelessness.

Among the number of entities that plan to be engaged in Campaign to Change Direction are many prominent pillars of the African-American community. Their collective goal is to make sure that Blacks in Indianapolis are not only aware of the signs of mental illness, but also have access to resources and care.


A pledge for progress

Dr. Nichole Wilson, director of physical therapy and rehab and the sports medicine program for Community Health Network, said when she first learned of the Campaign for Change, her wheels began to turn. Wilson, who serves as an advisory board member for the Women’s Fund and as president of the Alpha Mu Omega (AMO) chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., immediately saw ways in which the organizations she is involved in could play a role.

“We, too, as African-American women, are concerned about the mental health of our community, and we, too, have programming and partnerships that are a resource to people of color,” she said. At the next chapter meeting, each member will take the Campaign pledge. It will be an added element to the work they have already done for some time.

For the past few years, AMO has hosted an event series called “Come Learn With Me.” “In that series you actually hear from people who are in progress of dealing with a mental health diagnosis and situation,” said Wilson. “They bring the realness and share with people what it’s like to be in their shoes.”

With the Learn series, they have hosted workshops where attendees have access to resources and information on identifying the signs and symptoms of mental health crisis. The workshops have been held in partnership with the local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the Indiana Association of Black Psychologists. 

Last year, at Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration, the sorority decked out their booth in the exhibition hall of the Indiana Convention Center with mental health awareness literature, a massage therapist, stress balls, an adult coloring station and more. Mental health care professionals were also on hand to answer visitors’ questions. During Mental Illness Awareness Week in October 2016, the organization partnered with Indianapolis Power and Light to turn IPL’s building green in recognition. A host of events, including one with Christ Missionary Baptist Church on bridging the gap between faith and mental illness, were held that week. Wilson said AMO will continue these efforts in 2017. 

“A lot of times in our community, people do not want to speak up and they don’t want to go to a counselor,” she said. “If the church family can be there for people in crisis, that’s a first step and sometimes a more comfortable step for people in the community.” 


Addressing the need

In 2014, the Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD) conducted a needs assessment that revealed some startling details. “(The assessment) identified one health condition that crossed all age groups — mental health was the No. 1 and only condition that hit every age group,” said Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the department. 

“What really got our attention is that in our 18- to 25-year-olds, 48 percent stated that in the last 30 days, greater than 15 of those days, they were so depressed that they couldn’t carry out normal everyday activities. We also found that of our youngsters who are 12-15 years old, the percentage of depression among them was way higher than the national average.”

This information was the fuel that propelled the organization to up the ante on their mental health awareness efforts. 

“Mental health is public health,” said Frankye Johnson, administrator of social work for MCPHD. “It has always been a function of the health department and the social work department to educate everywhere we go in the community. We always do depression screenings, anxiety screenings and whatever screenings are necessary, because we want to make sure we take away the stigma that’s attached to mental health.”

In addition to consistently posting information online and distributing literature at various community events, the MCPHD worked with the Concerned Clergy, Baptist Ministerial Alliance and others to produce a series of videos on mental health through the Healthy Mind Healthy City collaboration. Caine said she sees the new Women’s Fund initiative as “powerful.”

“This opportunity really was a great approach that would help to really change the direction of public awareness of mental health, so we were delighted to partner with the Women’s Fund related to this effort,” she said.


Faith with works

For the past two years, according to Rev. Wayne Moore, pastor of Olivet Missionary Baptist Church, the Baptist Ministerial Alliance and the Concerned Clergy have been focusing on the issue of mental health awareness. He shared that last month, the two groups, along with representatives from Eskenazi and Midtown Mental Health, completed programming in six community housing areas across the city where they talked to residents and provided them with resources. 

“We have just spent six weeks talking to 350 people about stress, and we just did a massive support to Union District Association, which has about 30 churches in it,” said Moore. “So we’ve done quite a bit this year.” 

Moore said aligning with this initiative was imperative in his eyes.  

“(Mental illness) is very prevalent in our community, and we felt that the info needed to be out there,” he said, adding that the two groups have worked intently with IMPD on the issue, as well. 

“We have been very profound in making sure these areas we work in know about the police department’s transition as it relates to trying to help those who have mental health problems instead of locking them up,” said Moore. “We want to also make sure that mothers and fathers have the right info for their children. We are also planning to work on teen suicide by the end of the year.” 

IMPD’s efforts in this regard come as a part of Hogsett’s criminal justice reform plan, which seeks to connect mentally ill residents in need with treatment services rather than incarceration. 


Holistic education 

“We are concerned about educating the whole individual,” said Martin University President Eugene White. Martin, another campaign partner, has made a concerted effort during White’s tenure to directly address the needs of students in and out of the classroom. 

“The basic mission and culture of Martin is to help those individuals that have been marginalized and pushed aside along the way, those that have had situations in their lives that prevent them from pursuing their higher education. As a result, many of our students come in with emotional baggage,” he said. “We’ve attempted to build a culture of caring and student support. We want to be student-centered, so we’ve done everything we could to add to that with academic support and emotional support.” 

Recently, the campus was awarded a grant that enabled the administration to hire a social worker.

“It has allowed us to provide (students) with someone they can talk to and someone who can help them with direction. I think it has worked out very well,” said White. 

White said he has already seen fruits of their labor. In his role, he remarked, many students have looked to him as a father figure and mentor, a label he takes to heart. 

“It’s quite a compliment, because I’m here to help them and I made a conscious decision to be here so I could help them, and we have seen a big change over the past three and a half years,” he said. “Our students are more trusting, and they do reach out and support each other. That’s a big deal at Martin. Our culture is one of cooperation, collaboration and support.” 

White noted that as part of Martin’s commitment to the Women’s Fund campaign, they will create marketing materials that will be posted around campus detailing info on recognizing the signs of mental illness. Additionally, with the start of the fall semester, instructors will incorporate the themes into their lesson plans. A mental health facility, open to residents of Martindale-Brightwood and housed on Martin’s campus, is set to open in September. 

For more information on Campaign to Change Direction, visit womensfund.org.

Members of the Alpha Mu Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. pose with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett following the launch of the Campaign to Change Direction. 

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