Mental Health Conversation | News, Sports, Jobs

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-Photo of the messenger by Michaela Frerichs

Jennifer Pullen introduces about 70 attendees to information about the Berryhill Center in the very first Mental Wellness Conversation.

About 70 educators, health workers, religious leaders, human resources staff and community volunteers gathered on Friday for a conversation on mental wellness.

Thanks to the collaboration of Webster County Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Trinity United Methodist Church, Community Health Center of Fort Dodge, UnityPoint Health Berryhill Center and Webster / Calhoun Youth Wellness Coalition, the first conversation on mental wellness was held for anyone who “Live with, love and work with families” according to the organizers of the event.

Organizers include Laura Stover with Teen Pregnancy Prevention Information for the Webster County Department of Health; Kim Bodholdt of the Prairie Lakes AEA; Audra Fisher and Linda Cline with the Webster County Extension Office; Jennifer Pullen, executive director of the Berryhill Center; and Kari Jones with UnityPoint Health.

Stover said this event was something they had been discussing since before the pandemic. They said when the pandemic started it became clear to them that they needed to take action as the mental health of people in the community was doomed to worsen.

Fisher said they are noticing that farmers and ranchers face higher stress levels and Bodholdt said the AEA is working and continues to work with teachers and students to ensure their well-being is taken into account.

They decided to organize this event to open a dialogue and remove the stigma from the conversation about mental health.

“One hope would be that people take what they have learned today about how they can lower the stigma barrier,” said Bodholdt.

A presenter at the event, Lyndsey Fennelly, spoke about her experience with her own mental health issues.

“She was this star and top of the world basketball player opening a business and she didn’t want to admit there was something wrong,” Fisher said. “She must have gotten to a very low point in her life to realize it. She learned to be open with people about her bipolar disorder and she was very raw and honest about her life. it has helped people identify with her today.

Bodholdt was also a presenter and spoke about the Make It Ok program. Make It OK is a campaign to help communities begin to change negative attitudes and perceptions about mental illness, according to their website. Bodholdt said that one in five Iowan suffers from some sort of mental illness, but many don’t get the help they need due to the stigma surrounding mental health. Bodholdt said statistically more people have mental illness than diabetes, but people talk openly about diabetes more than mental health. She said the goal is to have conversations about mental health in order to educate and break the stigma.

Demi Johnson, Behavioral Health Program Specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach, spoke about “Question. Persuade. Refer.” According to the QPR Institute website, QPRs are three steps anyone can learn to help prevent suicide. Training to become a QPR Gatekeeper teaches people how to recognize the warning signs of suicide, how to offer hope, and how to get help and save a life.

The last speaker of the day was Pullen, who presented the resources available at the Berryhill Center and more specifically its behavioral health emergency care. Pullen said emergency care is a newer resource and a place to go for people in crisis instead of the hospital emergency room. Pullen explained that their emergency care is a quiet, safe place a person in crisis can come in and sit down to speak with professionals. Pullen has said so far that they have seen more than 350 clients and that over 80% of those clients have been able to return home safely with a plan of action and resources. Pullen said that if they feel a client needs more than outpatient treatment, they will ease the process of organizing hospital care.

Organizers said they hope attendees left the event with resources and knowledge to help others in their personal or professional lives.

Participants completed anonymous surveys at the end of the event and some of the responses to “What will you take away from today’s event? “ included a promise to “Defend with and for the people with whom I work”, new knowledge of previously unknown resources and a commitment to speak openly about mental health and treat it like any other health diagnosis.

Organizers said they hope to host the event again and want to continue the conversation about mental health.

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