GALESBURG — After local assessments finding #mentalhealthservices to be greatly needed in the region, Knox and Warren county organizations are working to take action.
#Mentalhealth, substance use and behavioral health were identified as prime areas of concern in an assessment of community health needs by OSF HealthCare.
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The assessment, put together through data and interviews with leaders from Madison, Henry, Warren and Knox counties, comes after a great visibility of #mentalhealthissues in popular culture, but also a time of great need, especially in rural areas like Knox County.
“It seems like there is a tremendous need for #mentalhealthprofessionals,” said Dr. Jonah Wasberg, Ph.D., Chicago-based clinician and visiting Monmouth College psychology professor.
Waseberg spends half of his weeks teaching in the region, living in Galesburg and teaching in Monmouth. He spends the rest of the week as a #mentalhealth counselor in Chicago. He says limited resources in the region, alongside #mentalhealth #stigmas, have made it hard for people in the region to find help.
“My understanding is a number of people actually go to bigger cities like Peoria to seek counseling because of the lack of counseling providers in that area,” he said. “The second concern is the #stigma going on in these areas in Knox County and in general.”
Waseberg says while media depictions of #mentalhealth have improved somewhat, they still often use terms like “crazy” or “bipolar” off-handedly. He says these #stigmas can “re-victimize” individuals.
While Galesburg and the area have some professionals, the high demand relative to the amount of professionals can lead to long wait times. Additionally, professionals need to undergo educational units, which they cannot study in town, instead requiring trips to Peoria or farther.
“If you are going through (serious) #mentalhealthissues, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible,” Waseberg noted.
Often #mentalillness can also go alongside substance abuse and addiction, something OSF also noted as an area of concern.
“In psychology, substance use or addiction is considered an illness,” Waseberg said.
While rural regions are often shorter of resources, they aren’t certainly short of need. Waseberg pointed to a lack of employment opportunities that can “prey especially on young people.”
In the survey of area patients by OSF, about 40% of respondents reported feeling depressed within the past month for at least one day. Thirty-two percent said they had felt #anxious or stressed.
This year has been especially hard for the rural community, too, where abnormal and extreme weather has led to a difficult year in farm country. According to a #CentersfoDiseaseControandPrevention study, in 2016, the #suicide rate for farmers was 1.5 times the rate of the general public, due in part to economic stress and lack of services.
Cheryl Crowe, director of behavioral health for OSF Healthcare, says both the young and old can struggle in these regions.
“What we tend to see is drift out, and businesses leave and some of the jobs leave,” she said. “So (people) are financially stressed in those environments.”
There’s also the so-called loneliness epidemic, abundant among older residents, who may be geographically far from places they can see others or homebound without transportation. Meanwhile, as young people increasingly are moving to live places they didn’t grow up, friendlessness is becoming an epidemic of its own among young people.
“Less people are staying where they are born, so they’re stranded,” Crowe said.
For OSF, #mentalhealth has been a push in many of the communities they serve. With issues of substance abuse, they hope to start treatment with new methods like Medication Assisted Treatment programs, which integrate medication and therapy to treat addiction.
They’ve also worked to integrate #mentalhealth and #suicideprevention into check-ups.
“We believe for the safety of our community, we need to screen everyone,” Crowe said, noting that 75% of those who reach out about #mentalillness will do so through their primary care doctor.
While access to psychiatrists and therapists in the region is limited, OSF has begun integrating telepsychiatrists in their Iowa and Streator areas, allowing people to remotely make contact with psychiatrists over video. They hope to bring this program to more areas in the future.
They’ve also worked with colleges and universities to recruit individuals as providers and APNs after they graduate.
Another big push has been SilverCloud, a cognitive behavioral therapy tool provided free to anyone in the area via the OSF website. With modules for stress, #depression and #anxiety, it can offer services to those who don’t live in a region with access, something they’re hoping will be especially helpful for the farming community.
On Waseberg’s end, he hopes the region’s academic community can start to make a difference for the area.
“You wouldn’t find that many rural areas with a rich history with colleges,” he said. “Just right here we have all these resources.”
Waseberg says Knox and Warren counties need to work to create more jobs for therapists and psychiatrists in the community, noting that many individuals still travel to larger communities for counseling.
Between the colleges, he hopes to start a task force to educate and reach out to the community in efforts for what he calls anti-stigmatization. He also wants to help the existing #mentalhealthprofessionals in the community engage in continued education within the area, instead of having to travel to larger communities.
“There’s a number of colleges around. Why can’t we provide those (educational) units to them?” he said.
As a visiting professor, Waseberg’s contract will run up in May, so he is trying to create something in the area that will last after he has left, and that will break down the perceived “walls” between the colleges and their communities.
“I think it’s a responsibility beyond Monmouth College,” he said. “We can do better.”
Matt Koester: (309) 315-6069; firstname.lastname@example.org