You may know a friend or co-worker who experiences issues with mental health. Or, you have heard that Iowa ranks among the worst states for access to mental health care. Many groups are coming together to talk about mental health in our community and how to build a stronger system of care, raising up the issue as a priority in our state. 

Conversation will especially increase in over the next few months as the Science Center of Iowa kicks off an exhibit in February 2019 and Capital Crossroads partners with the Science Center to host several events, which United Way of Central Iowa is sponsoring. View details here.

As you hear more about mental health and connect with individuals who struggle with mental illness, we encourage you to take action in central Iowa.  

Here are some ideas to get started:

Educate yourself.

Many groups and publications have recently lifted up the issue of mental health in our community. Become familiar with what is happening in central Iowa by reading the Lifting the Veil publication or browsing NAMI's facts and figures section. Follow the news across Iowa for up-to-date information about what is happening throughout the state. 

Access services.

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health care, dial 2-1-1 any time to have a trained professional listen to your needs and help you identify the best local resources. NAMI also provides an extensive list of resources to help you begin to navigate available services.  

Connect with those who need support.

Loneliness can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad). Experiencing significant trauma as a child greatly increases the risk of having depression or anxiety as an adult (Iowa ACEs, 2016). Yet research also shows that the best way to reduce the likelihood of these outcomes is to build caring relationships. Those who experience help and support fare better in health and mental health than those without positive connections in their lives. Learn more about the importance of building connections and promoting resiliency in the Iowa ACEs report.

Discuss mental health in the work place.

Employees who are thriving in all areas of health are more productive and have less absenteeism than those thriving only in physical health, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. Encouraging employees to feel a sense of purpose in their lives and to build connections with co-workers are two important strategies to improving well-being.

Engage in our community.

With the Mind Matters exhibit coming to the Science Center in February 2019, stakeholders involved in Capital Crossroads, including United Way, will host a series of events to encourage further conversation and launch a campaign called "Make It Okay" to build broader awareness of this issue. Follow the Science Center's website for updates on events and how you can volunteer.

Encourage elected officials to act.

Several groups are advocating for a stronger adult mental health system and to create a children's mental health system. Get involved with the Central Iowa ACEs Coalition's advocacy efforts or follow along with NAMI's efforts to advocate for a better system. Write a personal letter to your legislator telling them why you care about this issue or call them to leave a message letting them know you support policies recommended by these groups. 

Support nonprofits working on mental health.

Search for nonprofit organizations working on mental health in central Iowa and review options for getting involved in their work. For up-to-date opportunities to volunteer, visit United Way's database.

How United Way supports mental health

United Way of Central Iowa is committed to improving mental health as part of our overall effort to improve community well-being. We serve on several coalitions addressing mental health issues and promoting system-wide changes, including the Central Iowa ACEs Coalition, Children's Mental Health and Well-Being Advisory Committee, and Capital Crossroads Wellness Capital. 

In addition, United Way of Central Iowa funds several organizations to help more individuals access mental health services. In 2017, 2,290 central Iowans accessed United Way-funded services and 99.4 percent were maintaining or improving their well-being as a result of receiving those services. 

Learn more about our work in health:  

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Erin Drinnin

About The Author: Erin Drinnin

Erin Drinnin is United Way's Community Impact Officer for Health.