October 4, 2013

Addressing mental illness locally

The Oskaloosa Herald


Your heart races as you feel like the situation you're in is bringing on a heart attack.

But, realizing you're not alone can lay the path for understanding and recovery.

Mental health issues aren't the most comfortable topic of conversation for many people.

However, talking about these things is one step toward recovery from anxiety and depression disorders that impact more people than some may realize.

Mahaska Health Partnership recently hosted a mental health first aid workshop. Jan LeBahn, Director of Behavioral Health Services, said the workshop aimed to dispel the stigma of mental health issues, as well as provide tools and strategies for people to help manage someone through any type of mental health crisis. Much like traditional first aid, this workshop helped people to know what to do until professional care became available.

“We have a push to train for first aid/CPR in all professions,” said LeBahn, who then pointed to the importance of having mental health first aid knowledge widely available.

So, how common are mental illness symptoms?

LeBahn noted that one in four Americans will experience mental illness symptoms at any given point in their life.

People will go to a medical doctor to get check ups in a preventative capacity, explained LeBahn.

“Why wouldn't we want to take care of our mental health just as well as our physical health and just get that support to prevent something from escalating to symptoms that are more challenging to manage,” asked LeBahn rhetorically.

It should be noted that, just because someone is “feeling down,” that doesn't mean they are mentally ill, LeBahn said. It may be that this person simply needs to talk about what they're dealing with in life and gain some new tools and strategies for addressing these things, she said.

Depression and anxiety disorders are at the top of the heap when it comes to mental health issues in both Mahaska County and nationwide, noted LeBahn.

It's important to realize that there isn't one brand of anxiety or depression people experience. Both ailments come with their own unique range of severity, LeBahn pointed out.

In severe cases of depression, people can become unable to do things like form meaningful relationships with others, said LeBahn.

“It can be mild,” explained LeBahn while discussing levels of depression. “It can be short-term or it can be pretty severe, debilitating and chronic for the rest of that person's life.”

The symptoms of anxiety manifest themselves in different ways, denoting a range of severity. An example of a more mild form of anxiety is something many people can identify with — fear of public speaking. More severe forms of anxiety can render people unable to leave their homes, noted LeBahn.

Luckily, there are resources to address mental illness here in Oskaloosa.

MHP's Behavioral Health Services unit has qualified people who help others cope with mental illness. LeBahn said they have three psychiatric nurse practitioners able to meet with patients and identify their symptoms. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are also able to talk about the potential for relief through medication, added LeBahn.

There are 10 counselors at MHP that can meet with people individually to provide therapy that addresses and helps alleviate the symptoms they experience. Connecting people with inpatient facilities within Iowa can also be done, according to LeBahn.

In dealing with mental health issues, living a life of recovery is the goal, noted LeBahn. The use of medication to alleviate mental illness also depends upon the person.

“Some people can take medication for a short period of time with the assistance of the counseling and maybe don't need that medication any longer,” LeBahn said. “Some people may need medication of some sort for the rest of their life.”

LeBahn said “we are really blessed” to have these kinds of mental health services locally. Obviously, if they were not available in Oskaloosa, people with concerns for their mental health or that of a loved one would have to travel to receive care.

Those with concerns about their mental health or that of a loved one can contact MHP Behavioral Health Services at (641) 672-3159.


Herald City Editor Andy Goodell can be reached at news2@oskyherald.com.