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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health concerns and conditions in the community, according to a press release. During the current pandemic and with all the stress and uncertainty people are dealing with, collective mental health is being adversely impacted.

People are dealing with social isolation, financial upheaval, layoffs and concern over their health and well-being and that of their families and friends. People are living in an unprecedented time, which has caused everyone to face unforeseen challenges.

Widespread anxiety and fear over COVID-19 is making mental health awareness and resources more relevant than ever before. It is an increasingly important time to inform people that mental health concerns are extremely common, and to support those who are experiencing them.

Studies have shown that the rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, relationship problems and substance use concerns have increased since the pandemic upended everyone’s lives. As the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders continue, even the most resilient have begun to feel the strain.

Rather than spending time with family and friends in person, many have had to use texting, email and social media to maintain social connections with others. Children are home from school and parents are having to balance helping with school work, teleworking and shopping in new ways, all while practicing social distancing. For many farmers, this is a particularly difficult time. Feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, hopeless and worried are all very normal reactions, given what people are dealing with, and take comfort in knowing you are not alone, the release stated.

During the pandemic, Freeborn County Mental Health Center continues to provide psychiatric, therapy and substance use evaluation services via telephone and video conferencing. This ensures services can continue without requiring residents to leave their homes. Staff are able to schedule appointments within a few days of calling the mental health center. They are accepting new clients, and appointments can be made by calling 507-377-5440.

Freeborn County Mental Health Center offers mental health services to all residents of the county, including psychiatry, individual and group therapy, chemical dependency evaluations and adult mental health case management. Freeborn County Mental Health Center has two psychiatric providers, Dr. Annette Smick, MD, who is a licensed psychiatrist; and Brian Vold, an advanced practice registered nurse, who are able to prescribe psychiatric medication for mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar symptoms, behavioral challenges, attention and concentration difficulties, and addiction, among others. Psychiatric providers also complete psychiatric evaluations and are available to meet with children, adolescents and adults.

There are also four individual therapists who provide individual psychotherapy at the mental health center. Therapists utilize a positive, person-centered, strengths-based approach to help people reach their goals, overcome challenges and achieve wellness. The therapists work in close collaboration with the center’s four adult mental health case managers —who work specifically with those living with a serious and persistent mental illness — and partner with people to coordinate additional mental health services. Freeborn County also has two mental health case aides who operate the local clubhouse.

The Next Step Clubhouse offers a safe environment that provides companionship, acceptance and support for consumers of the mental health services and has a lot of programming and special activities. The mental health center also provides consultation on mental health topics to other agencies in the community and educational services to the community.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates that one in five Americans will experience a mental illness at some point during their lives. This represents roughly 46 million people across the country. Mental illnesses are often comorbid, which means people can have two different illnesses simultaneously. Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental illnesses. Eighteen percent of or 42 million Americans live their lives with anxiety disorders and 6.9% of or 16 million Americans have major depressive disorders. Bipolar disorder is the third most common mental health condition followed by schizophrenia.

Mental illness is a medical condition which can impact the way a person thinks and feels. It should be emphasized that experiencing a mental health challenge is no different than seeking health care for diabetes, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol or any other medical concern. Mental awareness is necessary, as it continues to reduce the stigma associated with mental health concerns, educates the public and encourages people to seek mental health services.

Are you or someone you know struggling to find support for themselves or their loved ones, especially during these difficult times? NAMI (the National Alliance for Mental Illness) offers many different trainings and support groups that can be found at NAMI.org. NAMI Freeborn County has a peer support group in Albert Lea. NAMI Connection is a weekly support group for people living with a mental health condition. The group is currently being done online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and can be found online at NAMIMN.org.

The NAMI Connection mental health support group will run again as soon as it is safe to do so. Thanks to United Way  of Freeborn County, meetings will move to a spacious meeting room in the United Way’s new building at 2610 Y.H. Hanson Ave. in Albert Lea.

Thanks to a grant NAMI Freeborn County recently received from Freeborn-Mower Cooperative, it will also be able to offer help with transportation to meetings for those in need, so anyone is able to attend.

Email namifreeborncounty@gmail.com if you have any questions on NAMI Freeborn County or the peer support group. Join NAMI Freeborn County on Facebook for more upcoming information and resources. Look for NAMI meetings in person to start again when safe to do so.

NAMI Minnesota is a nonprofit organization, with an affiliate in Freeborn County, dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families, the press release stated.